Well, Here I Am!
I warned you I was disappearing…
As I mentioned last time you heard from me, I was appointed an Access to Justice Fellow by our Supreme Judicial Court back in September, joining a dozen or so retired attorneys who agreed to volunteer their time for an academic year working for a nonprofit agency to increase access to the Courts for underserved populations. My agency is Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I created the Opportunity to be Heard Project, and have been very busy designing and implementing it. I am about to enter the most critical phase, so won’t be posting regularly hear until the spring.
For those interested, let me describe the project!
Since 1997 federal law has guaranteed foster parents the right to be heard in court “in any review or hearing to be held with respect to the child” 42 USC 675(5)(G). Federal regulation at 45 CFR 1356.21(o) entitles foster parents to be given “the opportunity to be heard in any proceedings held with respect to the child…” and our state regulations require that foster/pre-adoptive parents be provided “notice of a review or hearing held pursuant to M.G.L. c. 119 Sections 26 and 29B and c. 210 Section 3. The notice shall include notice of the time and place of the hearing and notice of the foster/pre-adoptive parents’ right to be heard at the proceeding.” 110 CMR 7.112 (2)(i).
In Massachusetts, however, foster parents are frequently actively discouraged from presenting evidence. In some instances, they have been actually threatened with loss of the children they foster if they insist on being heard.
Those who nonetheless do attend hearings are unprepared. Too often, rather than limiting their testimony to their own direct observations of the child, they provide subjective impressions of the child and birth family which are not germane or relevant to the judge’s determination of best interests and fitness.
The training will prepare the foster parent to present evidence so as to supplement the social worker testimony; factual, succinct and objective evidence of the child’s behavior, needs, and strengths as observed by the only people who are with the child day in and day out, and are therefore competent to make those observations. I have prepared sample motions and affidavits to assist in organizing the testimony, and also provide training on how to survive cross-examination.
After a research phase back in the fall, I began phase two by meeting with the Chief Justices of Massachusetts; the Department of Children and Families Administration; the Director of the CPCS (public counsel for birth families and children) the Child Advocate for the state and many other stakeholders. Now I am heading out to all areas of the state to do the training.
This continues to be a very exciting and interesting work, although it certainly doesn’t feel like “retirement” My hope is the when judges charged with the difficult task of deciding our childrens’ future finally have access to this critical evidence it will truly make a positive change toward best interests of the child.
See you in the spring!
Where Have I Been???
So many recent controversies in the adoption world: the ICWA case involving Baby Veronica, the Russian situation, and most recently, the “re-homing” expose. Where have I been? This website has been sorely neglected it seems. I promise to be more active here, but believe me, I have been busy! I regularly comment on these newsworthy issues I’ve been writing regular articles for www.adoption.com as well.
And, starting this month, I will be working on an initiative to open access for pre-adoptive parents to the court proceedings involving the children they are fostering as an Access to Justice Fellow of our Supreme Judicial Court. Very exciting! This is a ten month project which will require a lot of my time, but it has the potential to make a real difference.
So bear with me, readers!