|AJ enjoying her Fourth of July this year.|
No one warned me that when you have kids, the part of you that could avert your eyes from a child’s pain – any child’s pain – would be broken forever.
Sixteen months ago, a friend of mine named Kelly-Erin Kilmartin, a newly-licensed foster mom, took in a foster child. A foster baby, really, since she was just a few days old. It was what they call an emergency placement, which is DCYF-speak for “help dear God what the hell do we do.” Kelly is an obstetrical nursing student, a woman of extraordinary drive and discipline who left her lucrative first career as a lawyer to pursue her dream of nursing—basically, the sort of person that foster agencies fall all over themselves to get.
So Kelly took in this baby, and the weeks turned into months, and the months turned into a year and a half. The birth mom’s family went through periods of on-again off-again interest in the baby, but no one ever came to visit her. Meanwhile, little AJ (that was her nickname) turned into a healthy and exuberantly happy little girl. She chased the “ki-ki” around the house, she went on trips, she laughed and learned and played and splashed in her bath and noshed on turkey meatballs and gave tight hugs with her sturdy little arms, and above all else she loved her foster mommy, because of course sixteen-month-olds don’t know from foster mommy, or any qualification to that noun: there was only one mommy, and it was Kelly.
And just when it looked like yes, at last, the slowly-grinding wheels of DCYF were going to move in the direction that finally allowed Kelly to adopt, and make her relationship with her foster daughter a legally recognized one, distant relatives of the birth-family swooped in and took the child. From the only home she had ever known, AJ was taken early this morning. This morning, for the last time, Kelly held her. She had to write down a list of all her daughter’s likes and dislikes. Where would you start with such a list? What would you write, if you had only hours to compose such a list, knowing your child’s future well-being perhaps depended on it? Could you write through your tears and with a steady hand? God knows I could not. God knows Kelly did. God knows it, and part of me hates Him for it.
See, the thing is, family court judges have to follow the law, and the law says that basically, children are our possessions. They are an extension of our property; we can’t beat or damage them in obvious ways, but they do belong to us, and from a legal standpoint we no more care about their feelings that we worry about the emotional welfare of our cars. A child’s feelings are not considered, or if they are, only when they are older and speak in a language that a judge considers human and civilized. A sixteen-month-old’s terrified hug of her mommy is not a language the law is obliged to consider. The damage done to a child whose maternal attachment is destroyed—the law is not obliged to consider that, either. It is not obliged to consider the terror of a child who cries in the night for a mommy she will never see again. It is only obliged to consider the feelings of adults, and their “rights” to their “property.”
I believe, because I am an unrepentant optimist, that one day we will look back at this period of family law like we look back at the Dred Scott decision, and all other court decisions that dehumanized and made legally worthless the lives of living, breathing people. But sadly, that day was not this morning.
This was Kelly and AJ about a year ago, at a wedding. Look long and hard at their joy.
Don’t look away.
If you'd like to have a hand in ending stories like this one, consider becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate. CASA volunteers oversee foster care cases, help gather information, and are a reliable, steady influence in a child's life during a difficult time. No legal or social work background is necessary to become a CASA. A good heart and a good head are the only requirements. To find out more about CASAs, and the specific requirements in your area, go to the National CASA site (casaforchildren.org), and learn how to become one of the good guys.