Today was a typical Monday. Full of the weekend's messes that had to be mended in the world of Child Welfare. This morning I sat in Court from 9am until 11:30am. Finally the Judge called my case. I say my case, but really I've only had the case for two months and it has had about 7 other workers since it was opened in 2001. Yes, you read that right. For 6 years now this case has been going through the system. No need to explain all the whys right now, but only to say that the mother on the case did not show this whole time I was waiting.
The minute after the judge sets a hearing for tomorrow morning for a default termination (meaning she didn't show they will terminate her rights by default), she walks through the door. The Judge, noticably irritated, calls all parties back to the bench. He asks her why she had not been there earlier. She stated she had to ride the bus. The Judge tells her he knows there are earlier buses that run by the Courthouse. The Judge asks mother's attorney how they wish to procede now since the case was actually set today for a Jury trial.
Her attorney takes her back and through a complicated series of events calls me over to say his client is going to relinquish her parental rights. Okay. So, I go back to my seat to wait for the Judge to recall our case and get a Court reporter to go on the record. We all get back to the bench and the Judge starts reading the relinquishment form. "You understand that by signing this document that you are voluntarily terminating your parental rights?" She nods yes, crying. "That no one has promised you anything in return for signing this document." "No" she says. "That you are entitiled to a jury trial in which the State would have the burden of proof to a jury to terminate your parental rights and by signing this you are giving up the right to a jury trial?" "What did you say before that?" She asks, crying more. Blank stares from every one. She looks at her lawyer, "Can I do that?" "Do what?" "That thing with the jury?" The judge looks at me in frustration. I look back, probably with the same look on my face. "Let's go off the record." Says the Judge. The lawyer takes the mother back into chambers again. You can hear him tell her that if she can't test clean today she won't stand a chance in front of the jury. Finally they come back out. She finishes her statement and that's it. After 6 long years in the system, the fight is over.
The thing is, when that moment at the bench came when seemingly the mother had changed her mind, I found myself thinking, "Oh my gosh, you cannot be serious that after 6 years you would put us all through a jury trial. Surely, you don't think any jury would give you the time of day as far as your children are concerned. I can't believe you are going to waste a whole week of my time in a trial when after 6 years you are still testing positive for drugs. Please just GET ON with it!"
Later that afternoon as I sat in another Judge's courtroom again awaiting my case to be called, I thought, have I really become so dispassionate so quickly? As she stood at the bench crying over rights given up for the four children she would never see again, was I so cold already that the only compassion I had was for my own time? On one hand I am angry at myself for feeling that way. Then, on the other, I am angry for four children who have spent the last 65 months in foster care hoping to go home, only to be told in the end it would never happen.
Where my compassion lies, I simply cannot say with certainty. But I find myself in the middle of a Monday Mess, wondering if there really is a "right" place to fall on this one. Wondering who it is that I have allowed this job to make me, and if there is a black and white when it comes to something like this. Or do I just live in the land of the Gray?