5:15 a.m. and the alarm clock is brutally loud this morning. Sluggishly I creep out of bed. The baby can not wake up yet. I shower and then gently nudge my wife out of slumber. At that moment, the trash truck comes lumbering down the street. The dog barks, baby cries and we’re up. It’s court day in our home.
I guess the spoiler to this blog title’s question is: YES.
There are three key reasons why you should always make an attempt to be in court in your foster child’s case.
You may care for 1,000 different children in your time as a foster parent. You’ll have 1,000 different types of social workers. You may even have the very rare Mary Poppins of workers (we do right now!), but even he/she won’t give you all of the knowledge about your case that you’ll gain in court.
Rarely is a parent’s case clean, simple and easy. Most times there are subtle nuances, complex discussions and most importantly the non-verbal clues given by all the parties in the room. There’s also aspects to the parent’s story that can’t be shared a part from court. Attending gives you insight on the trajectory of the case and thus, how long you may expect the child(ren) to be in your home.
I’m learning that dedication is a two-way street. Many foster cases, at least in our state, proceed through the legal system with two concurent plans. The primary plan is almost always reunification and the second is adoption. While we want the parents to succeed, if the child cannot go home, your presence in the courtroom shows the social worker, Guardian at Litem, the bio parents and even the judge (you’d be surprised how much they remember you) that you are committed and dedicated to the best outcome for the child.
One of our current cases is teaching me something new. I’m seeing that our presence in the courtroom is provoking the bio parents to be all-in on the reunification plan. Isn’t that what foster care is all about? I can’t share the details of how exactly this plays out, but they know we’re in this for the long haul.
The most important reason to be in court, however is advocacy. There is no stronger place to advocate for your child. Some of the most important conversations that we’ve had in terms of advocacy have been with social workers, Guardian at Litems and attorneys just before the case is heard. In North Carolina, most judges invite the foster parents to sit right behind the county’s table. We’ve used that position to whisper to the county attorney or our worker whether elements of testimony are/are not truthful.
Sometimes, the judge will call upon the foster parent to stand and share an update. Or, to come up to the witness stand to give testimony in a matter. If you aren’t there, your voice can’t be heard. You know the absolute most about the child in your care, you’re the 24-hour caregiver and what you have to contribute is absolutely invaluable.
Granted, it’s not always easy to participate in court. With four kids, we know that finding daylong caregivers is difficult. Taking off of work is difficult — one of our cases is in a county 90 minutes away. Sitting for 3/4 of a day to hear the words “the case is continued until next month” is beyond frustrating. But the frustrations of the legal system pale in comparison to the responsibility to ensure the best voice for the child in your care.