In most states, foster parents are allowed to intervene in their foster child’s case after having the child in their home for a certain length of time. In Texas, on year is usually considered the standard amount of time you must have a child before filing your petition. Intervening means the foster parent obtains, through the judge’s permission, legal standing and is allowed to attend court hearings and have their opinions and wishes heard. This is what we did in Sugar Biscuit’s case. I often get calls from people asking about our experiences, and so I thought I’d share my thoughts here, almost 2 1/2 years after we went to trial.
February 9, 2012, Sugar Biscuit’s birth mom was granted an extension on her termination of parental rights trial. It was reset for July 9, 2012. Everyone involved in his case was greatly concerned about his birth mother’s ability to parent, and many people encouraged us to intervene. His first mom wasn’t safe. She wasn’t sane. She was a danger to Sugar Biscuit and to others. So, with heavy hearts, we hired our intrepid attorney and filed a petition for intervention- on the one year anniversary of SB’s placement with us- Valentine’s Day 2012. Then the games began.
There were countless hours of meetings, conversations, planning, and stress as we prepared for trial. My husband and I were accused of things we didn’t do, and our motives questioned by the opposing party. We had to turn over our phone records, calendars, and emails. We had to find friends who were willing to testify for us, and sit with us as support in court. It was expensive. We spent tens of thousands of dollars. I lost 20 pounds, as did my husband. I felt extremely guilty about the amount of money and energy we were spending on the court case, about the time it was taking from my other children. Then I would look in my baby boy’s eyes, and my resolve would return.
The trial was excruciating. It was quite literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done. On one side was SB’s birth mom and her attorney. On the other was the DA (the lawyer for CPS), the ad litem, CASA, and our attorney and ourselves. We had to sit and listen to the way our son suffered, to all the bad acts committed by his first mom. It was a horror show. I had to testify for hours and hours, Sugar Biscuit’s framed photo on the bench in front of me to help me focus. My mother attended with me, and she and I would sit and shake like scared puppies, all day, every day. We were unable to eat and poured cold sweat. I was as close to a breakdown as I’d ever been. Some of this was due to the fact that 2012 had just been a horrible year, but much of it was just the strain of what I was experiencing. Trial lasted six days. When we got to the end of the fifth day, which was a Friday, and we still weren’t finished, I was at the end of my rope. Our lawyer leaned into my car, looked at me, and said, “Let’s come back in here on Monday and get you your boy.” Those were the words that sustained me over the weekend.
Monday, there was testimony all day, and then the jurors were excused. That’s when my mom lost it, knowing Sugar Biscuit’s future was in the hands of strangers. She fell apart and had to excuse herself. I think deliberation took maybe a half hour. The verdict came back. Sugar Biscuit’s birth mom had her rights terminated on July 16, 2012, by unanimous jury decision on two counts. We’d won, but it’s a hollow victory, knowing you fought someone for their child. Sugar Biscuit’s birth mom loved him in the best way she knew how, and she lost him. I will never forget the sounds that came from her when she heard the verdict, the cries of a wounded animal. Her pain was so visceral that my friend started to go after her to comfort her.
A few days of reprieve, and then we found out there’d been an appeal filed. Because we had intervened, we could push back a little against the appeal, asking her to drop it in exchange for the possibility that at some time in the future we might lift the no-contact order the judge had placed in the final termination decree. In addition to this there were some financial reasons the appeal was dropped. SB’s birth mom had testified that she received an inheritance, and the judge told her she was going to have to use it pay for her own appeal. The appeal was dropped a short time later. We could almost breathe. Adoption Day was set for November 9th, 2012. Sugar Biscuit became ours 635 days after I brought him home.
For those people who ask if they should intervene, I share this story. I want people to know the truth. I am a strong, tough woman, and the process almost broke me. I now believe that the Universe gives you the children that are meant to be yours, whether you battle it out in court or not. That being said, I think it was worth the strain and money in order to feel some semblance of control, to feel like I was finally legally allowed to speak my opinion. As a foster parent, so many of our wishes go unheeded and unheard. Intervening allowed my husband and I a place at the table. However, I am going to have to tell my son that we fought for him, and why. I think we’ve accumulated enough paper evidence that when he is old enough, if he wants to understand fully, he will be able to do so. He may be angry at us. I just have to sit in faith that we did the right thing by him and hope it turns out for the best.
Was it worth it? Would I do it again? I think so. Hindsight shows me that we probably would have ended up with our son, no matter what. Again, I truly and deeply believe that God sends you the children that are mean to be yours, and nothing can break that bond. CPS hadn’t shared with us the depth of issues that our son’s first mom has. We had no idea what would be presented in court, due to confidentiality rules. Had we known all of that, would we have made the same decision? Probably so, just for the extra piece of mind. Our attorney was amazing. We had so much faith in him, and he exceeded all our expectations. I can’t begin to say how very important quality legal counsel is. If you choose to intervene, get the very best attorney you can find. It matters greatly.
Fighting for a child in court, especially as a foster parent, can be the right thing to do, and it may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. You need to understand that it will be devastating, financially and emotionally draining. It will change who you are and effect your entire family along with your circle of friends. I’m grateful for the opportunity to stand for my son, to do what we felt like was the absolute best we could by him. And I’m sad and guilty at times about the way it played out. I always thought that if I adopted, it would be an open adoption. I never in a million years thought I’d be fighting someone to keep their child and yet here I am. I’ve said before that going to trial allowed us to have the whole picture when it came to Sugar Biscuit’s birth mom and her behaviors, so we could make an educated decision on how much contact would be good for him. If we hadn’t gone to trial, and had an open adoption, a high level of dysfunction would likely be still present in our lives. I suppose, in a nutshell, I consider our intervention a necessary evil.
The process of intervening for custody of our son was mind-blowing. I think I still have a little PTSD from that time of my life. What would I have done different? I think where I erred was by getting too close to S, the birth mom. I should have focused more on SB, and my family, and let her make her own choices. I honestly think I drug the process out by inserting my will, and how I thought things should look, instead of focusing on my main priorities and letting the rest sort itself out. We live and learn, though. I’ve grown, along with my son, and am allowing time and distance to heal the hurts of the past. My goal now is to share my story with unflinching honesty so that I may help others decide what the next step is on their own fostering journey. May all of you, and the children you serve, be well.