Three-year-old Lisa's mother is 19. She was told last June by a judge that if she tested positive, just once, for alcohol or drugs that there would be a termination of her parental rights. She had to go from last January to December...free from alcohol or drugs...or lose her child.
In July...she tested positive for alcohol. She had gone seven months with clean tests.
I felt at the time of the order that the bar was something this girl might not meet. The teen mother had been going to counseling and drug testing. She was visiting her child regularly, (without a car she travels by bus). She was made to live in a home with 13 people and one bathroom. At one point she lived in a small basement bedroom with four others. She was made to go 90 minutes each way for her UAs even though she actually lived at a testing site. So, while two judges agree that "great progress" is being made...she may ultimately lose her child over one drink.
I was in the court room when Judge Ronald Kessler told the mother last June just exactly what would happen.
So, after eight months of passing the UIs and visiting her child regularly, and doing all that she was asked to do...she blew it!
I have sat in many meetings over the years where statistics are reviewed: The Governor's Juvenile Justice Committee; Chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee; currently a member of the Governor's Council on Substance Abuse; and a member of the Sentencing Guidelines Commission, etc., etc.
And, one thing I can tell you...there was no way this teen was going to make it until December as the judge had ordered. It would have been a miracle. Was she set up to fail?
Like vultures circling overhead, the Court Appointed Special Advocate has been waiting for this moment. The attorneys for CPS have been waiting. The attorney for the CASA has been waiting. The foster-adopt mother has been waiting (and probably told not to worry..little Lisa would be hers).
I have been in two different courts during four visits. There are three attorneys and a social worker vs the mother and her court appointed free attorney. There is really no fair match here. Judge Catherine Schaffer did recognize that for the record. But that did not change the fact. So, the 19 year-old has no match in court.
The bottom line: Should a mother lose her daughter over one drink?
Well, it really is that simple here. And, if you think so, for consistency the state needs to get out its paddy wagons and go out rounding up kids from their teen parents who drink. 80% of them illegally drink.
Oh, did I tell you? ....The state has made every effort to keep relatives away from little Lisa. The state never mentioned to either court that an aunt and uncle had passed an in-home placement assessment with flying colors. Grandparents have seen Lisa three times in many months and only because I have demanded that the state follow the law. (The CASA actually told the grandparents that the judge ordered that they NOT visit. That was not true! This guy is a snake!)
The state wants Lisa with a single woman, who has an active restraining order out against a former lover with a gun, who sends Lisa to daycare with a black eye. One of the judges said she didn't want to hear any more about the black eye and that she didn't think a restraining order was any indication that the foster mother's home was dangerous. I think the black eye occurred at the home judge, so I may not agree with you on that account. But, when the foster mother has a restraining order out...she has told us there is a danger in her house! How many beatings and murders have been committed against women who have restraining orders out against former lovers?
DO WE PUT A CHILD AT RISK TO BE FAIR TO A FOSTER PARENT???? I THINK NOT!
So, one drink could land little Lisa in a terrible environment. A CASA with a sorted background, superior government attorneys, alienation of a relationship with other relatives, a high bar....and, well, I have seen Judge Kessler be very fair in the past. I don't know what he will do in this case.
Last June the CASA'a attorney presented Judge Kessler with termination papers BEFORE the trial. The judge was outraged that the state had such little respect for the process.
It all rests with the judge.