I have a love/hate relationship with our days in court. Some days I’m excited, feeling full of hope. Other times, I’m full of worry because you never really know what yo expect. Let’s just say it’s been a learning process. In the last two and a half years, we’ve spent a lot of time in our local courthouse. We’re glad to be able to share a few tips for those of you who are entering the world of foster care.
I kid you not when I say that court days are an entirely new world when you are a first time foster parent. Unless you’re in social work or have been in legal trouble, most of the time this is going to be pretty new. In our case, we had no idea what we were doing. You walk into this new place and are like, “Ok, now what?” In our few years of experience, here are some things we wish we would’ve known starting out in foster care.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask a Lot of Questions
Like I said, we had no idea what we were doing. Our first time in court, we had no idea where we were even supposed to go when we got through the security check point. We looked around for the nearest person, thankfully running into someone that could help us. At our surprise, this person ended up being our State’s Attorney. It was a total blessing to run into him because otherwise we would have never had to opportunity to meet the man vital to our little man’s case.
Don’t be afraid to ask your case worker A LOT of questions. I know this is a pretty standard tip, but how many of us are still “afraid” to ask, to risk looking stupid. In the case of your foster kids, you are not going to care one bit what people think of your questions. Many times, even if you ask, your questions may still not be answered as no one knows the answer. Don’t be afraid to continue asking more and more people until you get a straight answer. That’s why this next tip is so very important!
Who Are The Main Players
This goes right along with asking a lot of questions, but it gets more specific. Don’t be afraid to ask who is who. We knew who the judge would be on our local juvenile docket and who our caseworker was, but that was about it. And trust me, crime/law shows on tv are nothing like the real thing. Haha.
I wish we would have known what people to ask about, but we had to learn the hard way. Depending on your state, the key players may look a little bit different than ours, but many will be the same.
First off, know your judge. Thankfully, we did know who this person was in our son’s case. We are grateful for our judge. She judges with integrity and honesty. We’ve seen this first hand over the last few years.
Next, ask who your State’s Attorney will be. They work hand in hand with the judge and are very influential in the decision making process. Your State’s Attorney works to uphold public safety for the minor child through the fair and efficient administration of justice.
One of the most important players to get to know is your child’s GAL. Huh? GAL? What’s that? (One thing you’ll learn as you jump into foster care is that there are a TON of acronyms and no one will just out and tell you what they mean until you ask). Your child’s Guardian Ad Litem acts as an investigator for the court. The GAL investigates all aspects of the case, writes a report about his or her findings, and also gives recommendations to the court as to what should happen to the child. The GAL works in the best interests of the child. The investigation is very in-depth. The GAL talks to you, your child, and people who know what type of relationship you have with your child. The GAL also looks at various documents and information that helps them with their investigation and recommendations.
Write it ALLL Down
PLEASE take a notebook with you in the courtroom. You are your foster child’s advocate and it’s important to jot everything down. From upcoming court dates, to certain questions, to the feel of the room. It’s so important to have the facts written down, but also what you are feeling at the time. I urge you to write down your emotions, your thoughts, what happened on those days. It will be important for your family to be able to look back on the process.
Bring a Book
I don’t care if you don’t like to read, bring something to at least look at. Court days can be long. Depending on the docket for the day you could spend 3-6 hours in the courthouse waiting for your foster child’s case to be called. My husband and I usually sit for at least three hours every court day. However, a few times we got in within an hour. You just never know. But trust me, you will want something to do. For the most part phones are prohibited in the courthouse, so no Candy Crush or Facebook update session for you!
Have a Statement Prepared
In our continued mission to be blatantly honest about the world of foster care, I share my next tip with you. In court, most of the time you will sit in the back of the room voiceless. Sorry, but I have to keep it real around here. For us, that is a one of the most frustrating part of court days. We are the ones caring for the child, but have no real voice in court. On some occasions and depending on the type of court meeting you are having, you might be asked by the judge if you would like to say anything or add any statements to the record.
When preparing a statement (just in case), remember you are your foster child’s greatest advocate, but you ARE NOT their biological parent(s)’ opponent or enemy. No matter how much you love your foster child, remember you are there to work with the family (as long as they will allow of course). You are there for your foster child, which ultimately means you are there for the entire family.
Trust me, this kind of openness is not an easy task. It doesn’t feel right to respect and show love towards the very person that put your foster child in harms way. It just doesn’t make sense to our human minds. But this is what you signed up for and it’s truly a blessing to have a cordial relationship with your foster child’s biological family. If you adopt or not, think of the benefits. Think of the benefits for your foster child, your family and the biological family. It’s always best to try to be cordial as much as you can in order to be the best advocate you can.
Keep to The Facts
As you can imagine, court days are emotional roller coasters. The stress of parenting and the day to day tasks of fostering are beyond tough. When it comes to these emotions, in no way and I saying to cover them up. That’s the most unhealthy thing you can do. But when it comes to court, please take caution in how you address your emotions.
As foster parents we have a perspective like no one else. We are the ones providing the care, the ones advocating, yet the ones with a stifled voice. Court is going to sting more times than not, but being respectful and cordial is necessary. Emotions are going to be high, but it is imperative to stay calm. Relay information based on the facts, not your emotions.
I hope in reading through our experiences and tips you find some solace when coming up on court days. These tips won’t make everything run smoothly, but they definitely help when trying to navigate the legal world for the first few times.
Knowing we are not alone in this has helped us tremendously. Having our village praying and supporting us each court date gives us a outlet to share and vent. These venting sessions aren’t pretty most of the time, but man it helps me! I encourage you to find your village and hold on to them tightly. They are going to help you in this journey in more ways than one. Love our village. ❤