Well, that was crazy crap. We finally hit an experience associated with our adoption that I really just couldn't even talk about. I went a week in pure crisis management mode, with no commentary to share with anyone about what we were going through. The short version is this:
- T had a court date in front of the judge who has him on informal supervision for a prior petty theft charge.
- In the weeks leading up to that hearing, the place where he is in residential treatment got frustrated with his behavior and wrote a report to the judge about how he'd been causing problems - fighting with other kids and losing his temper.
- They repeatedly cited his size as a problem, stating that he "intimidates other kids" because he is so big. He's tall and skinny, and although he can be a real pain in the ass, he has no history of physical bullying or violence. It was hard not to feel that the repeated comments about his size reflected an element of racism.
- In any event, the judge, upon reading this inflammatory report, got mad and put T in juvenile hall for seven days, although he's not on probation and wasn't being charged with or convicted of a crime, just to teach him a lesson.
- While T was in juvenile hall and unbeknownst to us, the treatment house phoned in a "7 day notice" to T's social worker, and thus washed their hands of him.
- The judge's order only permitted T to be released to the treatment center, so when they phoned in the 7 day notice and refused to go get him, he was stuck in juvenile hall with no way out.
- Meanwhile, a child is not allowed to be under the jurisdiction of both the juvenile probation court and DCFS/dependency court, so by placing T in juvenile hall, the judge inadvertently triggered a legal administrative process about jurisdiction. That meant that DCFS felt they weren't responsible for picking him up or resolving his situation either.
- We tried appealing to DCFS for help, and instead found out that they had now decided that, based on T's behavior, he shouldn't remain in our home, at least not under their jurisdiction. As if we were expected to "fix" him, and having failed, they would just move him on to a group home - or, their true desire, hand him over to the probation department to take over where they left off.
- All this meant that we couldn't get T out of juvenile hall, even as his release date came and went. As pre-adoptive parents, we still have very little in the way of legal status, so although he's been with us for two-and-a-half years and we are the only "real parents" he's ever had, according to him, we were not able to get him released. He sat there on his release date with nobody to pick him up, unable to make a phone call, frantic that he didn't know what was going on.
Happily, after we spent two days banging on doors at the courthouse, calling attorneys, gathering letters and sitting around waiting on judges, we finally got a hearing in front of the juvenile court judge to get him to revise the order. It turns out that the judge is the foster parent of an older child himself. He walked into the courtroom this morning, smiled at me, said "I'm sorry about this mess", called T in, gave him a speech about getting his act together, put him on electronic surveillance/house arrest, and sent him home with us. He announced that "Over the objections of all present, I am placing this child back with these people, who are his de facto parents, and who have shown up at every court hearing to speak on his behalf and proven over and over their commitment to him." At that, T chimed in himself: "It's true they could have given up on adopting me but they never did and that's why I have to get myself together!"
What. A. Mess.
We're pissed at the treatment house for abandoning T without involving us - after all, we've been doing three hours of family therapy at their facility every week with him, and they have involved us as his parents in every step of his treatment right up until they decided to leave him stuck at juvenile hall without telling us. Even the judge was mad about that.
We're pissed at DCFS for trying to take advantage of the administrative mess regarding jurisdiction to wash their hands of T - and for being generally negligent, and for continuing to fail to move his adoption forward, so that we can have legal status and we won't be subject to this constant bureaucratic chaos.
We're unhappy with the judge for putting a kid who isn't even on probation or charged with a crime in juvenile hall for seven days just to frighten him and make a point about his behavior. For all sorts of reasons (including T's various diagnoses, his abuse history, and the realities of juvenile detention in a big, rough city), I don't feel comfortable with that sort of extreme discipline. However, I will say, of all the officials who stuck their hands in this pie and messed it up, he is the one I have the most respect for. I don't agree with his techniques, but I do admire him for admitting the error when it became clear that something had gone wrong, cleaning it up, and recognizing that, with or without legal status, we're T's parents. He was gracious to us, and tough but very clear with T. I wish more people involved in deciding the lives of kids in foster care had firsthand experience as foster parents themselves. It makes a huge difference.
And of course, we are also frustrated with T for misbehaving at the treatment center, failing to complete the agreement we had about how long he'd stay, and so aggravating the staff there that we had no choice but to bring him home because they flat out abandoned him. Now we have to enroll him in yet another school, hasten him to outpatient treatment, and get back on the horse in terms of daily parenting on somewhat unexpected terms.
However, he's so worth it. When we finally got him out of juvenile hall today, he presented us with a long letter covered with hearts and smiley faces about how frustrated he is about "all my problems and how I put them on other people" and how he wants to keep trying, because he knows "we are a family and there's nothing I can't face down now." It wasn't a desperate letter - it was fairly realistic, very loving, and appropriately optimistic. Somehow, he has come out of this experience without any bitterness or cynicism, which is more than I can say for myself. He has a characteristic calm sense of endurance, coupled with a philosophical ability to scrutinize himself and recognize his problems and his promise. Now if only he could learn to govern his behavior!
Also of note: Tim and I made it through this insane and unexpected drama with our relationship intact. We worked hard every day to get T back - but we also slept at night, we went out for dinner, we got a little exercise, and we (kind of) did our jobs. We maintained our sanity. We stopped socializing, as we didn't feel like explaining what was going on, and we just conserved and focused our energy without getting all nuts. In my first year or so as an advocate parent, I had trouble accepting the turbulence and drama and I let it take a toll. I'm not a good parent and I'm not a good partner when I'm that stressed. We're battle-scarred but wiser and calmer now.
I will also admit that we are rather enjoying T's house arrest, at least for now. I think it might be the secret dream of every parent of a teenager. I jest, and don't advocate using the juvenile justice system for discipline - as we learned this week, that can be like lighting a candle with a blowtorch. But T is relaxed and engaging and fun to talk with at home, and now he has no choice but to be here. We missed him while he was away, and it's nice to know EXACTLY where he is for now. Which, at the moment, is in his own bed, in his own room, right next to ours, after a week when we feared we may have lost him.