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  • Writer's pictureKristen Herring-Asleson

Making Permanent Decisions based on Virtual Meetings

In 2010, my brother and his then fiancee gave birth to a baby boy. This baby boy was born with opioids in his system. At first everything was rosy, as they usually are when a baby is brought home, but in time, it came clear that his fiancee was not going to overcome her prescription pill addiction, nor was she too interested in parenting.

Fast forward 8 years to when "things" weren't going her way in a custody situation, she started to file false allegations against my brother. Of course, he was innocent each time, but during the investigations, their son would be given to her. And each time, once the investigation was over, their son would go home to his father. This time? She couldn't manage to get him to school or parent him properly, so their child was placed in my home for foster care.

When this last allegation was again proven 100% fabricated, social services and guardian ad litems chose to not return him but to go down a long process of re-integration, therapy, etc., so it would be the right process.

This was the time of Covid. You know what they did instead? They decided to terminate both parents' rights. Mom - yes, understandable, obvious, warranted. Dad? Not so much. He has a home, 15 acres, a wife, two stepchildren, and two children. His son should be home with him.

Now, he is being offered to be adopted, against his will, by a maternal aunt. The same family that has caused all of these problems, the same family who emotionally and developmentally abuses him. Yet, according to the system, the past doesn't matter and "people can change."

Making decisions that impact a person's life in a permanent way require an enormous amount of thought, planning, discussion and consultation. Those decisions take hours of thought, hours of meetings, and hours of observations before the final decision can be handed down.

Making these types of decisions quickly is difficult under normal circumstances, but in the time of COVID-19 and virtual meetings, it's nearly impossible.

In many of the Women at Work columns, I have mentioned Bellis. Bellis is a non-profit organization who provides support for anyone who has been touched by adoption. This means birth parents, adopted persons, adoptive parents and parents who have experienced termination of parental rights (TPR). The latter mentioned are a group largely overlooked as parents who need compassion and support, regardless of the reasons for the TPR.

When it comes to the termination of parental rights, there are many people from a number areas of expertise that comprise a “team” that makes the recommendations and decisions together. One of the members of the team are guardian ad litems.

Guardian ad litems (GAL) have a challenging job, and one that not everyone can do. A GAL is an advocate for a child whose welfare is a matter of the concern of court. A GAL has no control over the child, and does not provide a home for the child, but they do serve as a spokesperson for the child. They are supposed to provide independent information about the best interests of the child and make recommendations to the court in regard to short- and long-term best interests as well.

This job is important, to say the least. But imagine that your child is placed in foster care. Both parents are under scrutiny of social workers who watch their every move while permanent placement planning is taking place.

During the months following a placement, parents undergo a lot of things to hopefully achieve reunification. This includes creating safety plans, documenting what daily routines will look like, how to coparent with one another, etc. During this time, one or both of the parents may be found unfit. If that is the case, the other parent continues on with case planning.

Behind the scenes, the child is meeting with therapists, social workers, lawyers (if they have one or having one is acknowledged), and their GAL. This entire process takes quite some time; however, the government has requirements on how long this can take.

Imagine again that you are told you are considered a fit parent, however, due to a “fear” that may or may not materialize, your rights also will be terminated.

The case you are imagining started after life with COVID began and is ending with an adoption of the child by another party within a couple of months.

Virtual meetings for the team making this decision has been the norm for more than 18 months. Postponing these types of decisions based on virtual observations — rather than live visits — would be ideal. After all, a permanent decision is being made in regard to a child’s life and there is no real way to see environments, behaviors and interactions over a laptop screen.

Sometimes processes and procedures need to make a pivotal change, and this process may be one of them.

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