Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Nightmares & Dreams

Seth at Salvation Army party

"Seth is home."

These are the words our four year old grand nephew spoke as he lay in his big warm bed drifting off to sleep with "Eric Poppa" nearby.

We lost Seth, who had lived with us nearly a year, back in September when his biological mother came to Lexington and took him. We had asked my sister, his grandmother, to move out in late July, and that set in motion a string of dramas which led to his departure. For a long time, all we knew was that he was with his mother and grandmother, living in the family wing of the Salvation Army. I reassured myself that both were kind to him and loved him in their way. I knew he was safe and not completely homeless. I knew that he went to Early Start every day and kept the same teacher.

We tried to fight for Seth when he left, but we were told by Family Services, lawyers, and the police that there was nothing we could do since we did not have full legal custody (unless we had evidence of physical abuse or severe neglect). Salvation Army social workers never even returned our call.

This week, I learned that Seth's mother had left the shelter with a male friend for several days, and upon return, was not permitted to stay. Seth was alone with his grandmother, who did not have custody, and who needs all of her energy to care for herself and try to make a new start (which, blessedly, I now see that she is doing..). We started making calls. First, Cabinet for Child and Family Services, where I was told by an intake worker, "His mother can leave him with whoever she wants." Really? She could leave him with a known pedophile, or in a meth lab? This is our government at work. This is what people are being paid to do. Did that woman care one bit about what I was telling her? Nada. She was rude, abrupt, and cut me off before I could even get the story out. She said someone would contact me in 48 hours.. they did not.

Those answers did not suit me. I talked with another relative who had been in touch with Seth's grandmother. She told me Seth had been sick, to the hospital, and that my sister was sounding overwhelmed. I knew something had to happen now, not 48 hours or more likely 48 days from now. I called lawyers. The first two were busy and could not help me that day. The third was willing to help, but told me repeatedly that no judge would grant an emergency order, and that we'd wait,maybe weeks, to get a hearing. I persisted. I sent her more information.I pleaded Seth's case, all the while realizing that even if she gave in, her heart wasn't in it, and it probably wouldn't work. Meanwhile lawyer #1 called me to check in.. she said that she would absolutely file for the EPO if she were us. Lawyer #3, sounding annoyed that I had talked with another attorney said, "Feel free to contact someone else." But she agreed to look over my materials, and then she did a wonderful thing. She sent me a link to the forms for filing an EPO. She told me we could do it ourselves, and how to do it. She warned me that the clerical people would tell me only the Cabinet could file these. But, in truth, anyone can! A well-kept secret. I worked all morning to get things together.

By noon, my husband and I were at the District Court, Juvenile Division. I stood before a plate glass window festooned with colorful holiday stickers... something kids would love. A woman named Rhonda tried to send me away. She told me that I could not file as an individual. "It's protocol that only the Cabinet can file these." I told her it might be protocol, but it wasn't the law, and I refused to leave until she went to talk with somone.She was gone for about fifteen minutes. When she came back, she put the papers down and said, "OK, I need to swear you in."

We waited another ten or twenty minutes for a judge to look at the request. We were in this outer office, and Rhonda was the gatekeeper to everything else that was going on. Needless to say, we felt pretty disenfranchised and not too hopeful, after all the times we'd been told, in not so many words."Go away."

Lo and behold, the door opened, and the Judge herself came out. She said she would absolutely sign an EPO right away, and that we'd need to come to Court Monday to be granted custody. She called the Prosecutor who came right over and sat with us, explaining everything. He gave us his cell # and e-mail address. He could not have been more thoughtful or concerned. We had a court order, and we went to pick Seth up at school.

When I saw him, I almost didn't recognize him. He has lost eight or ten pounds and his hair is scraggly. He is pale and felt like he had a fever. But most of all, he just wasn't the same Seth. He's subdued and quiet, anxious and clingy. The teacher told me he had regressed terribly. He clung to me and, when Eric arrived with the car seat, he ran to him and held on.They both cried.

Over the two days he's been with us, I have learned from the teacher that every day, Seth would tell her, "I not go home on bus.Momma Cindy pick me up in her car." My sister, who is supportive of our having Seth now, told me that one day he said, "Gramma, where's my best friend Momma Cindy?" I need not have worried he'd forget. He was waiting for me to come back.

Thank God for the teacher who has been his constant ally, the kind people at the Salvation Army who obviously care about him, lawyer #1 who encouraged me not to give up, a certain police officer who went way beyond the call of duty because he cared about this little boy he never met, the Judge and Prosecutor who "got it" immediately, and all of our friends who held out hope and offered up prayers along the way.

Woe betide people who call themselves "community servants," like some of the social workers, administrative people, and others who work for the courts and Family Services.How can they sleep at night after shrugging off pleas for another broken and neglected child? The lack of compassion is just horrifying. I think they must forget, overwhelmed with cases as I am sure they are, that each child is a human being who hurts, longs, dreams, wonders, and deserves a chance. I don't know how they can do it.

Seth is doing OK. He has been eating constantly and sleeping well. Besides his less rambunctious nature, the biggest change is that he calls us "Mom" and "Dad," something he must have gleaned from TV or at school. He only wants to stay home, "Seth's house." We want to promise him that he will never leave again, but it will be a while until we can honestly say that. In his words, "Seth's home."

Left, in August

Right, yesterday at Salvation Army