Last week was the “goal change” hearing for Nia’s case, meaning the time where the judge looked at how much progress had been made in her 13 months in care and weighed in on whether it was worth continuing reunification efforts. Since there had been a preliminary version of this the last time they were in court, I wasn’t surprised by the outcome. Services to Nia’s mom have been discontinued and her case goal is now adoption. The state should terminate her parents’ rights sometime this summer and she will be free for adoption after that.
This means that the moment when we/Lee are going to have to commit to adoption is getting closer. That got a bit murkier in the week before when we ran into one of Nia’s relatives at a birthday party for one of Mara’s classmates, who is a cousin on the other side of one of Nia’s cousins. (And yes, that makes us two-for-two in coincidental family contact with the girls’ relatives thanks to the community college!) The relative claimed not to have realized that their branch of the family would be eligible to request placement (which I’d mentioned in direct conversation this summer when we met previously, but whatever) and yet also was now apparently serious about trying to bring Nia home rather than have her be adopted. Because all her relatives live in the next state over, our state is not going to seek them out and they have to make themselves known to the worker. That’s exactly what Lee had been hoping and praying for, that there would be an appropriate relative placement for Nia so that we wouldn’t have to be in the tough position of either refusing to adopt because we don’t think Lee is going to be able to do better at connecting to her and meeting her needs for the next dozen years or adopting her even though Lee isn’t yet comfortable with the idea and forcing Lee into changes she doesn’t want.
As it turned out, the relative wasn’t serious enough about wanting placement to manage to call before court, despite multiple explanations from both Lee and me about why that was essential. Since the reunification phase of the case is over, the state is not interested in looking into other relative placement options. Our worker tried to push this a bit, but I don’t think her view has gotten any traction. It sounds like this relative is just going to be told that it’s too late and that Nia is now headed for adoption. Personally, from some things I know and have observed, I think that’s most likely how it would have worked out even if the relative had been screened and vetted, but Lee is sort of shaken to have that last hope for another alternative taken away.
I’ve always said that I thought Lee would get better with the idea of adoption once she was no longer guarding her heart against reunification, and I guess we’re about to find out how true that is. Nia’s mom called me after court and was surprisingly calm and lucid. Her preference would be that Nia go to the relative (though it had never occurred to her to suggest that relative in the first place) but stay with us if that can’t happen. When we saw Nia’s grandmother this weekend, she said the same thing. So I’m honored that they trust us with Nia and can see that she’s healthy and cared for properly. At the same time, I feel awkward and guilty to know that we’re not as committed to her as they might think. Concurrent planning is really emotionally hard, and I think this is more common than people probably let on. Lee was up in the night comforting Nia during a series of nightmares Nia was having and I’m really impressed with the job she’s been doing as a parent to Nia, but that doesn’t change her underlying discomfort.
I also had to talk to her mom about the plan for Nia to repeat first grade. She’s made huge leaps in her reading and steady progress in math, but she’s still just not where she needs to be to cover the material first graders are expected to know. The plan is to keep her with the same teacher next year so she can be the expert who helps the younger kids learn the ropes. Her teacher and workers and Lee and I all agree that this seems like the best balance, that letting her soar and be a role model will be a much healthier fit for her than letting her start another grade significantly behind the other kids. She’s such a bright girl, but she has a lot of trouble listening rather than talking, staying on task without reminders from an adult. I’m grateful that this doesn’t mean she’s getting diagnosed with anything as she would be at a lot of schools, because I agree with her teacher that it seems to be immaturity and her personality rather than an underlying condition, but she makes things harder for herself and hasn’t learned yet how to stop that. There will be a number of her classmates retained, too, but most of them are going to other classrooms. And we’ve talked with her best friend Katrina, who repeated a grade the year she was adopted out of foster care and is now glad she did. But still, telling Nia’s mom — who puts a premium on Nia looking cute and working hard at school — that a year’s progress wasn’t enough to make up for the disrupted year of kindergarten was hard and I hedged more than I probably should have. But she was understanding about it and supportive of the rationales. She wants to see Nia succeed.
And that last sentence has the last big issue. Even though the case against Nia’s mom is concluded, the no-contact order the judge put in place is still in effect I guess until adoption or maybe just TPR. I asked the workers and lawyers if Nia would now be able to send letters to her mom and was immediately told that I’d be in contempt of a court order if I let any contact happen. Sigh. So she can’t get her daughter back and doesn’t have a caseplan to comply with to regain visitation but she’s also barred from seeing her daughter because she’s not following the no-longer-existent caseplan? Welcome to foster care, I guess! And we have to figure out if we do adopt Nia what role her mom and her extended family will play in her life. Right now, Nia can only see her grandmother, who would like to visit every weekend but I think is going to get scheduled for once a month plus special occasions because I think more would be overwhelming to Nia. (Ugh, as I’m reminded that she wants to bring family to a birthday party for Nia, and I’m going to have to tell her that the worker won’t allow it unless I can talk the worker into it somehow. Ugh.) All of this is harder in certain ways than it needs to be and it would be hard anyway to be talking to someone who’s losing her rights to her daughter even if you weren’t the person who’s been raising that daughter for almost the last year, and so on.
Nia doesn’t know about the changes yet, and I’ve sort of been putting them off because I don’t know how to answer the questions that will come up about adoption. I guess once Lee and I know that, I’ll move forward with talking to her. All of this is weird and hard, very different with a child who’s almost 7 than one who was still 3 when all these legal changes were going on. I’m a different person and parent than I was back then, too. I suspect the outcome will be the same, that Lee and I will arrive together at the courthouse for an adoption, this time to join these girls who already consider themselves sisters as legally part of the same family. I hope if that happens we can come to it as joyfully and peacefully as we did last time. I guess now that’s my personal goal.