Thursday was the day that was scheduled to go through the “transfer” procedure. This procedure is where the initial caseworker (who is in charge of ensuring the kids’ initial safety and creates the proposed safety plan) transfers the case to the caseworkers in charge long-term. I had initially thought that it was where the judge approved the plan, but that is what comes next. The new case workers will review the plan as set out, make any changes and/or recommendations and then it will go before the judge.
It was not at all what I expected.
To begin with, this process takes place at the kids’ new place of residence. In this case, that was their maternal grandmother’s house. At this time, the mother is living there and the caseworker felt it was safe for the kids.
We arrived at 10:45 and were immediately greeted by the kids’ father. He and I exchanged Packer pleasantries (Go Pack) and then we went inside. Including Jessica and I, there were eight adults there, sitting in a cramped kitchen around their dining room table. It was obvious that this was a smoker’s household and as such, it took me a while before I was able to adjust to the air. Since ‘T’ is five, she was in school, but the other three kids were there along with the grandmother’s child who was probably three or four years old as well. It seemed so strange to us that she would have a daughter the same age as one of her granddaughters. This means that total, there are five children and three adults (the grandmother lives with her fiancé) living in this two-bedroom home.
The house was clean, but certainly not tidy. The living room was well put together, but the rooms we could see (the dining room and kitchen) were both packed tight with things. This might simply be because they are still needing to make room for the new children. I know that when we had them for a month, no matter how we rearranged the sleeping situation, our second floor was always cluttered. The kids were to hang out in the living room watching TV, but as it was when they were with us, they preferred to be where the adults were. At first, they were apprehensive of Jessica and I but as the meeting progressed, they warmed up.
The meeting started with the caseworker introducing herself and having us go around the table introducing ourselves and our roles to this point. The caseworker then laid out the history of the couple, the family and the situation. He had a few domestic violence charges brought against him from the mother against her. He had never abused the kids as much as anyone could tell. She had a domestic violence charge against her and he had a criminal misdemeanor that he was dealing with for brandishing a gun at a party.
The recommended plan was then that the kids and mom would live with Grandma and her fiance and that dad would get the kids on the weekends. Dad and Mom were to not have contact and the transportation for visitations would be arranged by Grandma. Jessica and I made ourselves available for respite in the event that anyone felt they needed a break and Jessica provided them with the schedule we ran along with the positive reinforcement techniques we used to encourage good behavior. Everyone was in agreement and it seemed as though things were good as far as the plan went.
Throughout the meeting, the father (K-Senior) sat and let the kids climb on him. It was only ‘L’ and ‘K’ but they kept him busy. I am fairly certain that he paid little attention to the meeting itself. He did, after all, have his hands full. And throughout, he got up to get them snacks, try to occupy them otherwise, etc. I am sure that part of it was that that was what he would have rather been doing and the other part was that he really did not wish to rehash what had already been discussed, his history and what was agreed to prior to the meeting.
Once the plan was laid out and the new long-term caseworkers were in agreement, there were some fireworks between grandma and mom, though. It was obvious to both of them have a lot of baggage. The grandmother is a recovering drug addict and has been clean for quite some time. She was not really there for the mother during her childhood which was why mom ended up in foster care and aging out. Grandma did not understand why the mother had not forgiven her yet, or, more specifically, acted like she had done nothing wrong. Of course, it was obvious that the mother has years of resentment built up towards her mom and is trying to cope with that. Grandma did not seem to understand that you don’t just flip a switch and it’s automagically forgiven.
The shouting back and forth went on for a few minutes before the caseworker was able to bring some order. She then had everyone sign the agreement and at this point, Jessica and I excused ourselves as it had already gone on for about two hours (and we were expecting about an hour).
When we left, ‘K’ had put his shoes on and started to follow me out the door. It nearly broke his heart (and ours as well) when I told him that he would be staying. After we left, in the car, Jessica and I found ourselves second guessing ourselves. Had we done the right thing? Was this an environment in which the kids could thrive? With so much dysfunction between the mother and grandmother, were the kids any better off? We came to the conclusion that yes, we did the right thing; only in that in order to come to a good permanent positive outcome, there is a procedure that needs to be followed. In this case, it’s possible that the family has to fail before the kids can heal, but they need to be given the chance to beat the odds. Can the kids thrive in that environment? Doubtful. Can they mother and grandmother get through the baggage they’re carrying? I do think they *want* to but just don’t know how. Part of the program was that they would get the help they needed to work through some of that.
We then decided to go have lunch and, as you might imagine, the conversation was 90% reflection upon the meeting we had just experienced. It was the last lunch I’d get to have with Jessica before leaving for my trip the next day and was essentially the highlight of my week.
Later, when we got home, Jessica received a text message from the mother letting her know that ‘L’ was also in tears when she found out that she was not going with us; that she already knew that there was no way that her mom would be able to give the kids the same kind of love that she saw us give her kids, and Jessica responded that they would, of course, always be welcome in our home.
I believe the next step in the process, at this point, is that a judge approve the plan and that the social workers stay on top of the family (which they assured Jessica and myself that they would) to make sure that they meet their milestones and commitments. There is very little wiggle room for them, which means that they have a tough road ahead of them. We do hope, though, that they know that they are not alone; that they have help available to them. It all remains to be seen.