Not too long ago, I was hired as a Florida dependency attorney for man recently sent to Federal prison for drug trafficking.
(Note: I didn’t represent him on that charge 😉)
The mother of his child tested positive for meth when the child was born, which resulted in a child removal. The mother was estranged from her own family, so the newborn went immediately into foster care. My client has quite a bit of time yet to serve, so he was hardly an option for child placement - but his old-school Eastern European immigrant family,
(who live in CALIFORNIA!) immediately went to work.
Unbelievably, as a family, they pooled their modest resources and sent Grandpa and Grandma across the continent to offer themselves up as a custody option. They learned that DCF does not readily hand over child custody to anyone, grandparent’s rights be damned. But they were undaunted. Finding a place to live in Pinellas County, signing a month to month lease, buying some diapers, and setting up a nursery was the first step.
On my advice the passed a home study course and appeared at all court hearings.
A month after their arrival, the dependency judge awarded grandpa and grandma temporary custody.
The mother will be allowed a chance to complete her case plan, with their support, but in the meantime, this couple (both over 70 years old) are caring for their healthy newborn grandbaby, with the support of an extended family back in California. I was present when the Child Protection Investigator asked the grandfather why he would go to such lengths and he just shrugged and answered, “because that is my grandson”. He seemed to think it was a strange question.
Hillary Clinton famously copped the line to title her book so many years ago, the term “It takes a Village” has become a politically loaded phrase. If you leave your politics at the door, however, you can plainly see what she was getting at. “It takes a village to raise a child” is actually an African proverb, and it simply a recognition that giving your child the things he really needs goes well beyond a solid income, a gassed-up SUV and pre-arranged play dates. Ideally, parenting can be a communal activity, with help from almost everyone – a task that is not left exclusively to a loving single parent, or even better, an intact nuclear family, or better still, a committed extended family. The hard truth is that today, many children are being raised with none of these things.
The family unit is important today as always.
I’m not an idealist, and I don’t expect child-raising villages to start popping up anytime soon. I do refuse to believe, however, that we can’t do better offering some basic support to neighbors, close friends and family. It is not lost on me that the family in this situation are immigrants who were apparently imbued with values we are so obviously losing. Let’s face it, we would have fewer child protection investigations, fewer child removals, less need for dependency or child welfare lawyers, less crime and less need for criminal lawyers, if we take just a tiny paragraph of a page from my client’s family,
and reclaim our own families as part of our shared responsibility.
It sometimes takes a village and a good attorney to have great outcomes in child custody cases.
I watched as a woman named Carrie had her child removed from her custody and placed in foster care. Procedurally, it happened in a relatively common way – it began with a terse call from the kid’s school …“you need to get here right away”… At the school, Carrie was confronted with a professionally courteous but firm child protection investigator …“who are you?…where is my child? The investigator gave her a brief explanation, punctuated by ominous legal terms like “imminent risk” and “potential danger”. I watched Carrie go through the stages of fear, bargaining, rage and shame that comes with the sinking realization that the government has taken YOUR child, and they are in absolute control of when you can get her back.
As an Attorney who handles a fair amount of child welfare/ dependency cases (child removal), the essentials and emotions of that scene were familiar and rang true. The factual particulars were, shall we say, a bit more exotic than usual. Carrie’s child was not removed for the usual kind of child neglect, or because she had been physically or sexually abused, or because she was forced to live in a roach infested dirty house with no electricity and tweakers for parents, or was found walking naked and unsupervised in a trailer park, Carrie’s child was removed because Carrie left her unsupervised with her seriously disabled friend, who just happens to be a former super assassin, a man who has been physically and psychologically damaged by the sarin he was exposed to whilst saving the free world from Muslim terrorists, and while he was acting as babysitter, just happened to get into blazing fire fight with the NYC SWAT team - which he might have won if Carrie had not tacked him from behind.
As you may have guessed, I didn’t watch this in person. The mother’s name is Carrie Mathison, who is the brilliant but bi-polar lead character in the Showtime television series Homeland, played by Claire Danes. She herself has saved Western Civilization several times, and it was interesting to see her laid low by a bureaucratic Child Protection Investigator. It was also interesting to see that Homeland got some of the procedures right, including a shelter hearing where a judge approved the removal and ordered Carrie to have supervised visits pending more proceedings, (presumably with a case pan including psychological evaluations and parenting classes.) It will be interesting to track the series portrayal of the dependency system. Who knows, maybe we will get to see how Carrie responds when the state gets around to terminating her parental rights
I am one of those loyal television viewers who will often stick with a series long after it has passed its prime, and occasionally I will muck around with diminishing entertainment returns even after the proverbial shark has been jumped. I’m not sure what it says about me when I admit I still will watch a show long after it begins to suck, but it would not be unfair to make this observation about my viewing habits. Homeland is a show that has arguably been on a shark-jumping trajectory since its brilliant and vaunted opening season, but I think Season six has renewed my interest. It is an added benefit that this season gives a sensitive and relatable to anyone who has daily exposure to child removal, parent’s rights.