The past week has been a tumultuous one. In the state I live in, when a child is removed from their home for negligence or abuse or marked a “dependency” (like an orphan), the DCBS (Department of Community Based Services) worker is required to set up an emergency family meeting within five days of removal to review the case plan for the child. This meeting allows the birth parents, foster parents, and any other family members to get on the same page regarding the goals that need to be met for reunification and what is required to maintain foster or relative placement.
Baby S was born in August. The day after she was born I emailed the caseworker to alert her and ask when that meeting would be scheduled, assuming that she’d be placed in state custody since there was an open uncompleted case plan on the birth parents. I inquired into the scheduling of the five-day meeting and, for weeks, was constantly told that schedules just couldn’t align and that the meeting would occur whenever Baby S was released from the hospital. She was released in early October but the meeting still never occurred. I continued to email and follow-up with the caseworker until, finally, she responded back and advised that they were able to get something scheduled for last Tuesday.
I brushed off the fact that the caseworker was 20 minutes late for the meeting and my sister (not birth mom) and I was left in a somewhat awkward situation, sitting in a stark room in the DCBS office with Brother E and Baby S’s foster parents. I was such a nervous wreck that morning that I forgot to grab the notebook where I had jotted down a slew of important questions. It was during this meeting that the caseworker, very matter-of-factually, advised that the termination hearing for Brother E would occur in December and, from her view, there was nothing that could be done to stop it unless a family member stepped up to take custody of the children. She even related that DCBS planned to recommend a sped-up termination of parental rights (TPR) on Baby S so any decision for relative placement had to be made very quickly.
My sister spoke up and asked the caseworker to explain what needed to be done to consider relative placement and she expressed her concerns over adoption proceedings, considering that once the children are adopted there is no legal document that can be drafted to ensure that the siblings maintain contact, only the birth parent, and the children. At that moment I truly felt for the foster parents. There they were sitting across from the two people who could potentially remove the child they had so painstakingly developed a deep bond with over the past year and the little baby who had just joined their home who was so obviously a gift to them. But at that moment the gut-wrenching reality that Noah’s siblings could become strangers to him also struck me.
After the meeting, I emailed the caseworker to advise that my husband and I were in the very early stages of considering petitioning for custody of Brother E and Baby S but that I had a lot of questions regarding assistance they could receive under our care. The caseworker and I had similar conversations back in January and, ultimately, my husband and I decided not to take Brother E. I lost my job unexpectedly during that discussion and didn’t think it fair to cause any more financial strain on my small family.
In my email last week I asked about adoption, kinship care, medical benefits, child care – all the responsible, intelligent factors that impact a person’s ability to care for a child. The caseworker confirmed receipt of my email (Tuesday) and advised that she’d get back to me on Wednesday or Thursday with some responses. Come Friday I still had not heard a peep. I emailed a friendly reminder to inquire but got nothing back. This past Monday came and, again, nothing. So there I was again, emailing a politely worded reminder to no avail. Come Wednesday of this week (over a week since I had initially contacted her), I sent a more sternly worded email, advising that the holiday was quickly approaching as was the TPR hearing and that I was trying to collect information so I could make an informed decision.
It’s not that my husband and I planned on making a decision right at that moment. It was that for that entire week I felt like someone was sitting on my chest and that I couldn’t breathe. I had spent every available moment tossing around possible schemes to make having three children under the age of three work in our home. It was very clear to us that to make it work that one of us would have to quit our job to stay home with the children, as childcare expenses would be too high to reasonably justify working. Can my salary alone support a family of five? It definitely could work but it would require us to readjust our lifestyle a bit. It was a choice my husband I were still exploring – questions like whether it was more important that Noah has access to private education and all the other luxuries that our income provides or that Noah is raised alongside his brother and sister, albeit a little more frugally?
I had hoped that there would be something encouraging from the caseworker in one of her emails, a glimmer reassuring me that it was something completely doable. Instead, I was advised that the children would not qualify for any type of assistance because they are “dependency” cases and not cases of abuse. And, then, there was this one-liner:
“Your home setup would be appropriate to care for the children, however, DCBS would not recommend you for placement, as we were set to place Brother E I in your custody in January and you changed your mind.”