My First Trial

February 1, 2009

I knew this was going to happen, but I was still dreading it.  One of my cases going to trial.  Essentially cases go to trial when we (the Dept. and the parents) cannot come to an agreement on a legal proceeding, usually for dependency or termination of parental rights.  In this case, the parents of my shaken baby are not agreeing to dependency on their newest child that we removed at birth.

The Dept. (and I) are of the opinion that these parents seriously injured a child, have not admitted to it or the gravity of her injuries, and have not participated in the services they agreed to to address their “parental deficiencies”.  So we are going to trial.  This is a pretty nerve-wracking experience.  My lawyer has been prepping everything for the trial and calling the past social workers, who of course come to me and ask what is going on.  They are all going to be called as witnesses, as will I.  So I have been going over all of my case records and remembering what I did on the case over time (which is really hard!) and trying to mentally prepare myself to be cross-examined.  It is hard not to have pictures of Law & Order or A Few Good Men go through your head and not wonder how you will do or if they will break you.  I hope not!

And scheduling is a huge pain, because I have to be at the trial the entire time, which means I cannot do anything on my other cases, so I am trying to get colleagues to cover my other hearings and trying to make sure that I have nothing majorly pressing on my other cases.

So I was originally told that trial was to start on Monday, 1/26, but wouldn’t know for sure until after the case scheduling conference that happened the Thursday afternoon before.  I then learned that it would happen downtown in a different courthouse and start on Tuesday.  So I am all prepped for Tuesday until one of the parent’s attorneys asks for a one-day continuance due to illness, which everyone agrees to (although he still works and is in hearings for other cases – whatever).  So I dry clean my one suit and haul the case files on a bus and go downtown Wed. morning.  Most of us are ready but the parents are 30 minutes late, which is typical of them.  Unfortunately, so is one of our translators, and we cannot proceed without her.  I am in charge of scheduling translators (yep, along with everything else) and I would have been worried about not doing something correctly, if it wasn’t that I spoke to her personally on Monday to inform her about Tuesday’s continuance.  I call, no answer.  We all wait and wait and wait.  I am pissed because this makes me look bad.  She finally arrives 2 hours late! because she had double-booked.  Fortunately, the judge lays into her a bit, so I do not have to.  And we start trial.

Except we don’t.  The parents’ attorneys ask for a continuance because we just received a psych report on the dad and they want more time to review it.  The lawyers (all three!) have the most long-winded arguments I have ever heard.  Why isn’t there a time limit on them?  Seriously, they need to get more concise!

The judge grants their motion and we are delayed for about a month (although with some meetings in between).  And it was probably the right decision, as they probably do need time to review the report.  And it was nice for me to go back to the office and be able to work on stuff without anything scheduled.  And maybe this will increase our chances of having the case settle, which would just be so much easier.  But what a stressful process!


Shaken Baby Syndrome Parents

November 18, 2008

I have a shaken baby on my caseload who is doing quite well in her foster home, although she has severe delays and will endure long-standing effects from the violent shaking she suffered at the hands of her parent(s) at 6 weeks old.  She was in the hospital for quite a while and has been in a foster home since.  There has been a criminal investigation, although it has stalled because they cannot pinpoint which parent did it and neither are admitting anything happened.

So now it is months later and I have two parents who want to parent this kid, yet I have all of this risk that I have to take into consideration.  And I am supposed to offer them services.  Yet, there are no services for parents of shaken babies.  I looked at the research that has been done and really there is just the labeling of what SBS is and guides on how to prevent it.  I am supposed to offer services to these parents to eliminate their parental deficiencies, but they do not exist.  But I also don’t feel comfortable sending home a young child with sever disabilities that are the result of the severe physical abuse by at least one of the parents.

I am frustrated.  I am in a position where I could see that these parents could possibly be good parents to this child.  However, at this point, my job is to look at the risk factors and they tell me that I cannot let the child go home.  But do I have enough to prove in a court?  My colleague has reminded me to let the court decide and have that decision be on them.  I am just frustrated because there are no services and I feel like may get the blame for that.  And it is easy to see how good things are going now – reports from the visitation are good and the parents are presenting as committed.  I just have to remind myself of what a violent act they committed and the long-term effects this young child is going to have – developmental delays, learning disabilities, and vision problems.  What an awful case.

Angering Parents

June 17, 2008

I have officially angered a parent. I have the voicemail to prove it. Blue was angry with me today because I denied her request to take her visit outside of the building. I think I had good reasons to do so:

  1. This was the first time the visitation supervisor had met the child and the mother.
  2. The child, a four year-old, is very active and prior supervisors reported that he can be a lot to handle.
  3. The intersection outside of our office is very busy.
  4. Blue has difficulty taking “no” for an answer.

So Blue actually wanted to discuss this all with me during her visit. I told her (repeatedly) that it was not appropriate to talk about it at that time (in front of her 4 year-old). She had difficulty hearing this and I left. Later, my co-worker received a voicemail, actually 2 voicemails (because one was not enough), saying that I was rude to her (which I was not), lied to her (which I did not), and ripped me for my lack of experience.

The thing that gets me is that she does not appear to think (or acknowledge) that I am in constant contact with my co-worker. She is trying to pit us against each other and, really, today, she slandered me to my coworker. I set a limit with her, or I didn’t tell her what she wanted, and she got angry.

But while I try to rationalize what her motivation is, I keep coming back to that she is displaying features of Borderline Personality Disorder. The main characteristic has been her intense swinging between idealizing social workers (she told my coworker today that she was blessed to have such a great, dedicated worker) to demonizing workers (she has essentially characterized her previous worker as the devil). Of course, borderline clients were the ones I said that I never wanted to work with. But the beauty of this job is that we don’t get to choose our clients.

So what am I currently doing about all of this?  Documenting, documenting, and more documenting.  So when I am called to testify and am getting grilled by Blue’s attorney (gulp), I can have as much documentation to back me up as possible.  I can’t say that I am looking forward to that day.

Conflict, but not at court

June 12, 2008

So apparently sometimes I worry too much about things. Or, just about the wrong things. I went to court today and it was no big deal. Actually it was kind of boring, except for maybe the attorneys, who at times seem to start stuff to just start stuff, like middle schoolers do. The Mom was actually excited to see me. We chatted a bit and then it was back to the office.

One of my big tasks recently has been organizing visits for a new case to our unit. Three kids in three different placements with a mother that has almost 2 dozen aliases, numerous cons (for thousands and thousands of dollars), and severely medically (and educational and ‘regular’) neglect. This Mom (I need aliases for these parents don’t I? So we’ll call her Blue) is quite a charmer and we already know that this is going to be very contentious in court. So I have been trying to juggle the schedules of the kids, the foster parents, Blue, and our contracted supervisors. And then once I get those down, then it is trying to find a place for the visit to happen. This has not been an easy task and I know people are frustrated. Unfortunately they are directing it at me, but I feel like I am doing the best that I can and trying to make it as simple as possible. Of course, that is not so easy.

So yesterday I had called Blue in the early afternoon offering her a makeup visit for today (10-12) because I thought I had figured out a schedule for the one of her kids that lives far from the others (today I found out that it won’t work out at all because of vacations. Grrr). I asked her to call me back either way to let me know so we could organize it. She didn’t call me yesterday – I checked my messages at 8 pm. She didn’t call me this morning – I checked my messages at 9:15 while at court and therefore canceled with my scheduled supervisor. I do get a message at 1:45 saying that she had called me the day before (she had not) and was confused about the times and requested that I call her back. So I do and offer to have a visit tomorrow (we need to make up lots of visits because of schedules) which she agrees to.

But then it is this big thing about she is not happy with the current location of the visit. Previously the visits were at a large mall. First, I don’t think that a mall is the site where a quality visit can occur. There are many distractions when the focus should be on the kids and interacting with their parent. Plus, she has three kids (1, 4, and 9) so it is hard to keep track of them in a loud, crowded mall. Finally, there is the issue of supervision. There have been previous reports of Blue saying inappropriate things to her kids, especially the 9 year old. A mall is just too difficult for a supervisor to monitor everything. Well, Blue wants the visits to go back to the mall – does she not like the intense supervision she gets at the new contained location? I tell her that while I hear her concerns – there are many that she tells me repeatedly – I am not going to change the location of the visits at this time. I do tell her that I will look into alternative locations. Blue again tells me how great the mall is – even though she agreed to change the location when we did it in the first place – but cannot take no for an answer. She really goes on about this for about 20 minutes. She talks about how bad the department is and how slow we are to getting her answers and how we don’t put her kids first and how we ignore her and on and on. I repeatedly tell her that I am hearing her concerns, that I will look into and consider a different location, but at this time I am not going to make that decision. Finally, I say that I am not going to argue with her over this. Well, she backs down about this and reassures me that she is not going after me (right) and that she is not trying to argue with me (sure). And after another 5 minutes are finally able to wrap up the conversation. 35 minutes to confirm a time and location for a visit. Whew.

Afterwards, some of my colleagues (who heard the conversation and knew immediately who I was talking to) congratulated me for surviving my first argument with a client. It was really different from anything that I had done before. I really had to stand my ground and be firm with her. I really felt like she was trying to push me around so that she could get what she wanted. And I think that I did ok, but this is something that I am going to have to get a lot better at. People are going to try to push me around and I have to be firm and make sure that I am doing what is best for the kids and not just what the parents want me to do.

Tomorrow: Potential Conflict in Court

June 11, 2008

So I am going to court tomorrow for a hearing for a case that I have been supervising the visits for at Mom’s treatment facility. I (and others) have had some concerns about this Mom; mostly that she seems to struggle parenting more than one child at a time (I supervise visits with a 6 year old and 1 year old). Most frequently, she is focusing all of her attention on the 1 year old and does not engage much with the 6 year old (although the last 2 visits have been better). This concern is further exacerbated by the fact that Mom is 8.5 months pregnant. Will she ignore the 1 year old as well once there is a new baby in the picture?

So there is potential for concerns, particularly this one, to come up tomorrow at court, which I am planning on attending. Now, I will not be the one saying any of this in court, but I could see this being brought up, Mom not being pleased at all, and then her confronting me about the concern. Then what? Do I defend my position? This does not seem to be a good idea: I have no desire to argue something that has no potential of resolution. But Mom does have a right to voice her opinion. So I guess I will try to acknowledge her disagreement, but stand firm that it is a concern that I have in some of the behaviors I have seen. And then try to leave it at that. We’ll see how that goes. And my guess is this will also have an effect on future visits, which will also be interesting.

I just don’t like conflict – I am the product of two very skilled conflict avoiders. But I know that I am now smak-dab in the middle of conflict all the time, so I guess this is a good time to get into it. Sigh.