On the Eve of Trial: The Story of a Legal Risk Adoption
Tomorrow morning, at precisely 9 o'clock, the chamber door will open and everyone will rise. They will remain standing until he takes his own seat, smoothing his robe around his lap. Only then will everyone be seated. It is a common scenario. It will take place thousands of times tomorrow, in hundreds of courtrooms throughout this great democratic country of ours. Judges from every level of our judicial system will make decisions on a full spectrum of cases. Those decisions, wrought by those judges, however insignificant they might seem to the world, will affect the life of at least one person, in some way.
Logically, I know that each decision made in each courtroom is important to someone. But, to be honest, it's this case that matters to me - this courtroom on this morning with this judge. I hope to God he's had a good nights sleep; hope he had his coffee and that he found his car keys and didn't run into any traffic on his way to work. I want him well rested and clear-headed. Because he will be making a decision that will affect my entire family
and I for the rest of our lives. He is hearing the case for the termination of parental rights
on the children I call my daughters.
In February of 1998, I was a happily single woman in my early thirties. For 6 1/2 years I had worked as a public servant in a job that will certainly never make me wealthy, but which I absolutely loved. I was truly blessed: in addition to my job, I had the perfect apartment, a nice car, a warm, close-knit family, and many wonderful friends. I also had a renewed appreciation of my health, after an emergency hysterectomy with many complications had put me out of commission for several months the previous year. I didn't have a steady boyfriend at the time, but wasn't particularly looking for one either. I didn't have any special urge for a baby, or any regrets about the loss of my childbearing equipment, and I never once heard my biological clock ticking. What I did have, however, was an inherent love for children.
I had considered adoption
on and off for several years, but really started to research it when I found all that time on my hands after surgery. I called Adoption Rhode Island only after I was already pretty confident that this was the route I wanted to pursue - special needs adoption through DCYF [Rhode Island Division of Children, Youth and Families].
When I entered the home study group, I was pretty confident that I was well prepared, and I was, to a certain extent. There was one thing, however, that I hadn't encountered during any of my research - "legal-risk" adoption.
A legal-risk adoption refers to placing a child into a pre-adoptive home before the biological parents' rights have been terminated. These legal-risk cases are the same kids, in the same situations, with the only difference being that they are not legally free for adoption. However, it must be emphasized that just because DCYF has petitioned the courts for a TPR (termination of parental rights) on a specific child, it does not mean that child will be placed on "legal-risk" status for placement. The people involved- social workers, supervisors, attorneys - review each case individually to determine if it would be in the best interest of the child to place him in a pre-adoptive home without the guarantee that a TPR will be granted.
I found that there are two schools of thought on this practice. The first, being the definite majority, was that it might be okay for others, "but not for me!" There was much concern, particularly among pre-adoptive parents, that there is simply no way they could consider taking a child into their home, knowing that there is some chance that the child will be taken away. I certainly understand this point of view, but I was confident that it was a route I was willing to go. To me, legal-risk placement
, if done appropriately, can be a gift to everyone involved - a gift of time. Every day that the child is spending with a family who wants him forever is a treasure - not to mention it's another day NOT spent languishing in foster care
. By taking a child without the TPR "guarantee", you are buying time with that child. Maybe it's a matter of months, or even a year or two before the child can be freed for adoption. Think of all the time that a child would have had to spend in other placements. How many more losses would he endure? How desperate and lonely would he feel? I wanted children to move in with me on the first day they could. I wanted them to have a home instead of a placement, and a mom instead of a foster family.
I look at them now, asleep in their beds, and I know that these are my children, and I am their mother. Perhaps they have only been in my life for half a year, but that is 183 days and nights, over 4000 hours, and an infinite number of memories, for them and for me. I am a realist, however, and I know that the word "risk" is quite literal in this situation. But, nothing good happens without risk - nothing. And if the worst-case scenario were to happen, I know in my heart that I will not regret the decision I made.
And so, tomorrow morning, at precisely 6:30 a.m., my alarm clock will go off. But I'll already be awake, because my daughters will have been giggling and whispering in the next room waiting for Mommy to get out of bed. We will rise to start our day. The girls will make their beds, and play with their breakfast, and complain about which Flintstone comes out of the vitamin container. But we will manage to get the teeth brushed and the bows in the hair and the lunches packed and the coats zipped up - and we'll make it out the door by 7:30. I will drop the girls off at daycare and get big hugs and kisses before I head to work. It'll be just another normal day.
But then again - it won't really be a normal day at all, because a few hours later, in a courtroom in Providence, a man in a black robe on a high bench will take his seat and commence to decide our future.
© judicial, system, judges, decisions, family, trial, commence
Credits: Lisa R.