Foster Dad 20: You Don’t Have to Be Here

The child attorney told us, “You don’t have to be here,” a statement that echoed what all the other attorneys, FFA social workers, and DCFS social workers told us, that we don’t need to be present at the court hearings regarding our foster child. Our current DCFS social worker repeatedly reiterated to us that foster parents don’t attend court hearings, trying to tell us that we don’t have to attend and it is unusual that we do. I don’t know how true that is, but it’s what she tells us.

I think the attorneys and workers perceive that it’s troublesome for us to attend the hearings. Today, after waiting for 4 hours for our case to be called, the court broke for lunch and had to resume in an hour. I told the child attorney, “Okay, we’ll go get lunch and come back.” That’s when she stated to us, “You don’t have to be here.” I replied to her, “This is important. We want to be present.”

There’s not much as foster parents that we can offer to the legal proceedings of our foster child. As foster parents, we are service providers in the system without rights, authority, or voice. Besides one update form we can fill out before each hearing, there are no other documentations we can submit to the court. When we enter the courtroom we’re told to sit on the backbench against the wall; we’re not even on the other side of the barrier which marks the inside area of the courtroom. We sit in the spectator section, not actually a part of the case. When we’re there, we don’t get to speak on behalf of the child. We sit quietly in the back for the duration of the hearing, which lasts anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, and then we leave. We can spend our entire day in the waiting area for our case to be called, and sometimes, it gets called last. But we have been at every single court hearing. So why do we attend the court hearings?

Because there is something significant we can offer at every proceeding: our presence. Although we don’t have any legal standing to contribute to the hearing, any rights or authority to defend the child, or legal position to advocate for and fight on behalf of our foster child, our consistent presence is powerful. Our silent presence communicates volumes to the court that we are serious about the well-being of our foster child and we are committed to caring for him. After changing judges four times, the child’s attorney three times, and the DCFS attorney twice, we are present. Sometimes the DCFS social worker is there and sometimes the biological parent(s) is there and sometimes they’re not, but we are present. At one time it’s one courtroom. At another time it’s another. We are still present. We are the one constant in the ever-changing, twisting, and fluctuating nature of the case for our foster son.

The fourth and regular judge eventually recognized our enduring presence in the courtroom. I remember the day when she invited us to enter beyond the barrier and take a seat at the table in the inner courtroom. That physical crossing of the threshold signified to us that we had become someone significant in the eyes of the court. We still had no rights, authority, or voice in the actual case, but we were no longer on the outside looking in. Our presence was recognized. The judge has asked us if we have questions, thanked us, and, for certain matters, even apologized to us. We have no say in the case, but we sure have a presence on behalf of our foster son.

I know sometimes we face situations where we ask ourselves, “What can we do?” or “What can we say?” and the reality is that we may have very little control over the juggernaut of obstacles or trials before us. But one of the most powerful things I believe we can do is be present for the things that are important to us. Our presence has the power to convey our commitment, care, and love. It communicates that we’re involved and invested. We’re not removed, indifferent, or aloof. Others may come and go, conditions may go up and down, situations may twist and turn, and time may be drawn out to where others don’t stay, but our presence remains. Presence means in the simplest and profoundest way, I am here. And to the most fragile things in life in the most trying or complicated of times, I am here can mean the world.

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