Wednesday November 7 “The red binder”
I’ve been up all night again and I don’t even recall what day of the week it is. It’s 5:00 am and I have been “sleeping” on the couch with Malachi in a Fisher-Price Rock N Play Sleeper directly next to me for six nights now. My mind has completely erased what it’s like to have a newborn and this particular little man doesn’t sleep more than a two-hour stretch and I feel lucky when I get that. There are twinklings of time that I can sit in the silence of the middle of the night and soak in the sweet smell of a new baby, and then there are moments of “are you freaking kidding me right now? GO TO SLEEP, what is wrong with you?” If I weren’t so exhausted I would likely be fretting about our impending first home visit with the case worker later today.
“First Home Visit”
I don’t know if this is a sign of my age or hers, but our caseworker Nina looks like she just graduated high school. About two inches above her left ear her dark hair is shaved close to the scalp with the remainder hanging to just below her right ear. She is a cute petite girl with a tongue ring and earrings running up and down both ears. She is soft spoken and I can tell by the way she nervously answers questions and fumbles with paperwork that she is in way over her head. She confided in me that this was her first case and it is a big one because there are a lot of moving parts in a family of six children and a bio-mom requiring so many services.
After giving her a tour of the house and showing her that we had all of the essentials to care for a newborn, we sat down at the dining room table. Nina pulled out her notebooks and folders while I held a sleeping Malachi. I filled her in on how we were adjusting to life with a newborn as she scribbled in her notepad. I didn’t tell her that I am literally running on fumes at this point and she shouldn’t look in the dishwasher because I threw all of the dirty bottles and cereal bowls in there just moments before she arrived. I was also hoping that she didn’t look in the garage to see the mounds of pizza and carry-out boxes that I had piled along the wall waiting for garbage day. At least I was showered and the baby didn’t have any curdles of milk in his little fat rolls. I wasn’t sure how many liberties we were supposed to take with what we call him, so I sheepishly explained that I wanted to call him Kai for short and Daryl wanted to call him Mac. It appeared Mac was the nickname that was sticking. She didn’t respond. She just kept writing with her head down.
Nina could not answer all of my questions and referred to the red binder frequently. I admitted that I hadn’t completely gotten through the nearly 2-inch-thick pile of paperwork. In a nutshell, this is what I learned about the case from Nina on our first visit:
Right now the “goal” for this family is reunification and we were waiting for a court date for adjudication, which is when the case actually begins. Anything that happens before this date would not count for or against bio-mom. From that date, bio-mom will have nine months to prove that she is doing all she can to get custody back of her brood. Every time there is a new trial date the goal will be reviewed and will either continue with reunification or change to “TPR” (termination of parental rights). If bio-mom is attending all of her services and showing effort, the Judge will likely extend each trial date. She couldn’t divulge to me bio-mom’s diagnosis or what her actual services would be, but did say that hypothetically they would include parenting classes, domestic violence classes, and psychiatric counseling. She will have to obtain proper housing and a job. These are all things that the private agency would assist her with. She is currently unemployed and homeless. She has already had one psychiatric evaluation that found she is mentally unable to care for six children but may have the mental capacity to care for one. When I asked if that meant she might be given a chance with the youngest one, Nina’s response was “anything is possible.” She went on to say that she thinks that bio-mom loves her kids because she knows she should, but does not display the maternal love that one would expect to see. When she mentioned that bio-mom’s biggest concern was that she can’t live without the SSI money that comes with her kids I wondered how much she was getting. We needed to set up hour-long weekly visits with bio-mom but the case worker was having a hard time getting everyone’s schedule together. The sibling visits are supposed to be four hours per month but it is difficult to find a location that could easily accommodate six children between the ages of new born and 10-years-old. She asked if I was willing to host a visit and without hesitation I said yes. According to Nina, this case could go on until Malachi was at least 2-years-old, maybe longer.
When the young case worker left my house I was emotionally drained. I felt like I understood the “process” a little better but did not get the answers I was hoping for. However unrealistic and unfair, I was hoping she would say “Mrs. Davis this is an open-and-shut case, bio-mom can’t handle it and we are going to do everything we can to ensure that Malachi stays here and will do it as quickly as we can.” I did not even get an inkling of that.
This was the first time I questioned if I could really handle this.
I put off the mounds of chores that I needed to accomplish and the nap that I should have taken, and instead sat down with a cup of coffee to finally flip through the red binder to figure it out on my own.
The information printed in the formal DCFS document was very hard to understand and there were punctuation and spelling errors painted on every page. I wondered if someone had maybe spoken into a transcription machine and that’s why it was so poorly worded. After flipping through the entire binder I felt even more confused than before I read it. One page contradicted the next and the dates made absolutely no sense. I got a piece of paper out and wrote down calls that were made and dates that the authorities were called to her apartment and there was just no way that it could be accurate.
For fear of losing you with confusing “facts” listed I will just give you my version from what I could piece together:
According to the binder the calls started to come in in March of 2012; however, I can tell that she was already on DCFS radar with services such as a “house and parenting coach.” There were several calls made to the hotline to report questionable behavior but they do not all have dates.
The reports included a call made from the school bus driver recounting an instance where he arrived to pick up the kids and only two of them came out. One was dressed in a thin t-shirt and gym shoes and the other one was wearing a coat with nothing underneath it, one boot and one gym shoe. The second report proclaimed small, naked children throwing debris off of the ledge of their third-story apartment. Other calls included screams and cries heard throughout the day from the apartment. The binder does not indicate which day the following occurred, but it almost appears that they were different incidences. The reference reads: “When the agent showed up at the home the children reported that their mother was at the laundromat. Neighbors gathered on the lawn telling stories about the screams, naked children on the ledge and reported that they rarely went to school. There were butcher knives on the floor. The home was full of bugs and rodents. They eat old food off of the kitchen floor and there were dirty pampers and moldy food scattered throughout. Mom says she was in the bathtub when the children were on the ledge. The family was living in hoarding conditions.” According to the documents, bio-mom was arrested for child endangerment. The four oldest children were sent to temporary foster homes while the youngest stayed with neighbors who frequently took care of him, this was dated March 19, 2012.
The red binder went on to indicate that mom has limited parenting abilities and was four months pregnant. She was in a domestic violence situation with the children’s reported father. She stated that he has beaten her for nine years and only shows up a few times per month to have “relations” with her and take her SSI checks. Some of the information contradicted others, but what I could gather was that three of the children were frequently with neighbors and friends while the two youngest spent most of their time with bio-mom. Yet there was another account that suggested that bio-mom’s mother was staying with them for help until she had a stroke just months before the children were removed.
There was a short sentence on each child.
Justin is a 6-year-old male with an IEP for developmental delay. It was noted that when the visits with his mother are over he does not cry, instead just says “good bye” with no emotion shown.
Tameka is a 4-year-old girl with an IEP for developmental delay. Even though the bond with her mother seems strong she does not get upset when it is time to leave her visits, she merely says “good-bye.”
Angela is 10-years-old and has an IEP for autism. She is happy to see her mother during the visits but also happy when she leaves.
Edward is a 9-year-old male and has an IEP for speech/language impairment. It appears that Edward has the closest relationship to his mother and kisses her when she leaves.
Jay is a one-year-old male with no health concerns. He is non-verbal and does not allow anyone to touch him. He appears to be fearful of everyone except the neighbors that he was temporarily placed with, the Grogans.
Only two of the children mentioned their father and both seemed fearful of him stating that he would hit them and they did not want to see him again.
Bio-mom received a monthly social security check for herself and a check for $698 for each of her children and has admitted that she cannot handle all five of the children together because of Angela’s autism and her pregnancy.
The binder included pages of goals for bio-mom and listed how DCFS would help her obtain them, but again, the wording did not appear logical. The objectives were made on May 18, 2012 with a completion date of October 31, 2012. The few that made any sense were vague and ranged from “The mom will be able to attend and receive knowledge of her abuse,” “learn appropriate ways of parenting,” “keep families whereabouts known at all times,” “obtain medical and birth records of all children,” and “make changes and help ensure she receives the help provided”
After skimming through the confusing information a few more times I realized that there were a lot of gaps, almost as if pages were missing. I felt like a lot of questions were answered but a lot more were created. The multiple inconsistencies and chaos made me obsess over the uncertainty of these innocent children’s futures, not to mention the daily life they were subjected to.
Then I got out my calculator. Bio-mom received $698 for each child, which is $3490 per month, PLUS the social security check she was getting for herself, and this was before Malachi was born. Even though I vowed not to, my initial reaction was to judge this woman. It was as if having children was her job and every time she wanted a raise she would get pregnant. Prior to May 2012 when her kids were removed, she had Section 8 housing in a nicer part of the city, food stamps, a medical card, WIC and roughly $4000 per month. She’s never held a job for more than 6 weeks and somehow was pulling in more money than most hard-working people.
Exhausted did not begin to describe my state of mind. I felt like I had just run a marathon when all I did was read a binder. I put the dreaded book away and picked up a sleeping Malachi and just stared at him while we rocked. I felt the need to protect him now more than ever. From the woman who gave birth to him? From the situation that his siblings lived in? From the system that is seemingly so topsy-turvy and uncontrolled. Is it really possible that a judge would place him back in that environment? Could she pull herself together? As I watched his little lips pucker while he slumbered I reminded myself that this is indeed what I signed up for and regardless of what happens in the end, if Malachi has to go back to his bio-mom then we will have at least given him a head start in life and pray that God will continue to take special care of this baby and his siblings. This is literally my only option.
The mother in me could not help but think of bio-mom out there without any of her children and it just added to my melancholy. I picture her pacing the floor back and forth wondering where her children were. I wonder if she is pounding the pavement trying to find a job and a home. Does she lie in bed at night crying and feeling regret wondering what she could have done different? I ponder if she even has the ability to organize her thoughts like this. I kissed my little man on the forehead and whispered to him that I would do anything I could to protect him.
Judge, I am already confused about why the record-keeping is so unorganized, messy and contradictory. I truly have no idea what actually transpired. I have decided to keep my own record of everything that happens with Malachi, just in case. I want you to understand that I am completely for government assistance when it’s needed and understand how hard it would be to monitor that on a case-by-case basis. I would not begin to pretend I could come up with a solution on how to stop bio-mom from taking such severe advantage of the system without impeding the help to someone who really needs it. Does she even know that is what she’s doing? What I do know is that it’s a big problem and I see it first-hand right here in this binder.
Next time I’ll lighten it up a little with the process I went through to use the dreaded WIC coupons.
**Names have been changed.