A Letter to the Judge

Things with the girls’ court case were highly contentious on many levels.  For the majority of the case, I was the subject of brutal questioning and cross examination.  The reasons for this varied as the life of the case played out.  

Around the time we made the decision to move forward with finalizing Shianne’s adoption, we hired a private attorney.  As foster parents we had NO legal rights.  Up until this point we weren’t afforded the opportunity to share anything in court outside of our legal testimony. This testimony was directed by questioning from attorneys who did everything in their power to present a case against us.  Although the Judge denied the request for us to become a party, she did sign a motion stating that Jeff and I would be granted “the right to be heard.” 

Turns out “the right to be heard” could mean a number of things.  NO ONE knew what to expect it would mean in our case. So to avoid becoming a complete mess, I wrote the letter below. If all else failed, we could just stick to the script. 

__________                                                                          

Originally written for December 23, 2013

Good Afternoon, Your Honor:

Thank you for considering our motion and for allowing us the opportunity to be heard today. As I reflect on the last, almost 4 years, from the first days of getting to know Chelsea, Savanna, and later Shianne, to holding all of 3 them through their SANE exams, to countless hours in facilities and therapy sessions, to all of the glimpses of normalcy and happiness that are captured in the pictures that you saw in the girls memory books and even more that we have been blessed to live… I realize that all Chelsea, Savanna, Shianne, and ultimately Jeff and I have wanted MOST of all….was to be heard. We’ve screamed and shared our stories the best we’ve known how and then found ourselves beat down, pushed around, and stuck in a system that we desperately cannot wait to get out of. Right now though, I know I speak on behalf of all of us when I tell you that we are all breathing a little bit easier because we can sense that the right people at the right time may finally be hearing us….

Jeff and I have now been before this court as witnesses while the public defenders did their best to vilify us in an effort to reunify the Oden siblings with their biological parents. Through a grueling Termination of Parental Rights (TRP) trial. Through several hearings post-TPR that have felt even more difficult than the ones that came before. Through one of the most beautiful experiences of our lives to date as we finalized Shianne’s adoption. And then I was able to testify as an “official mom” on September 4th.   And now, we are here today with an opportunity to be heard outside of any line of questioning…

We just want you to know that we have and will always be committed to all three of “our” girls. And I use the word “our” loosely…because the reality is, that while we fully claim all 3 girls as our daughters, be it foster or adoptive, Chelsea, Savanna, and Shianne have belonged to all of us. All of the people who are sitting here today and countless who aren’t…have had an important hand in their lives as foster children…for better and for worse. We have certainly been blamed as the cause for the “worse” plenty of times from what you’ve heard on the stand and read in court reports.

Given all of the pictures of us that have been painted for you, we respect that in many ways it took a leap of faith for you to be open to exploring bringing our family back together. We thank you for your willingness to explore this. We know that each of the girls, as well as all of us as a family, have a lot to work through. It will be hard and it will take a lot of work and commitment for all of us involved in the therapeutic process. By now we are sure that you are familiar with Dr. Meyer’s report. There are two things that really hit home for us from her report. The first is that Shianne no longer meets the criteria for a diagnosis of depression and PTSD. For us, this is the most compelling argument to the power of good and appropriate therapy and a permanent loving home. Having lived Shianne’s PTSD with her for the last several years and most recently being able to live life with one of the most resilient and well-adjusted 5 year olds any of us here will probably ever know gives us a hope we have never truly been able to grasp until now….a hope for the positive impact that the “right” therapeutic process could have for Chelsea and Savanna. The second thing that stands out to us is that Chelsea and Savanna need to be on their way home to us for them to have this opportunity …what Dr. Meyer describes as their “BEST opportunity” at finding healing from their past and being able to live their best lives. We are trusting that Dr. Meyer’s thorough observations, assessments, and recommendations, and all that has gone (goes) on here today, is the start of moving forward to bringing Chelsea and Savanna home.

Finally, we would like to share that in what we can often only describe as one hell of a crazy ride over the last several years, there is a constant yearning to find meaning and comfort in how things play out. We find it incredibly powerful, that earlier this morning on this December 23rd, we sat in this same court room as our first foster daughter prepares to spread her wings and exit the foster care system to become fully independent. We know that as she has since she first left our home, Yanina will land back with our family whenever she needs or wants to. We have been by her side as she has graduated from public high school, completed college courses, excelled at her job working with children with autism, gave birth to her newest son, made the admirable decision for Josue to attend private school with his uncles, obtained her C.N.A & G.N.A, searched for jobs and many of the tough times in between. Chelsea and Savanna, just like Shianne, deserve the opportunity to come back home to us where they will be loved and guided through life’s milestones and the in-betweens, before they spread their wings to fly.

In closing, we’d like to share some of the lessons we have taught to, and learned from, our girls over the past 5 years –

Nothing worth having in life ever comes easy.

           Faith makes things POSSIBLE, not easy.

                       We can do hard things. So –

                       Keep on keeping on.

           Life is fragile & hard, but good. So –

           Do what you love and love what you do.

Jeff and I strive to live by these lessons…which is indeed in part why and how we are here today.

__________

As it turned out, we hit the home run on the September 4th court date that I wrote about in my post yesterday. So there was no need for a script. Instead we spent the time getting down to business and planning for Chelsea and Savanna’s homecoming.  They came home FOR GOOD in February 2014. 

Fast forward to August 2015! 

While this time of year brings the back-to-school frenzy and celebrations of new milestones, it also marks a very important date in the Phoenix Family history. This Saturday, August 29th, we will be celebrating Shianne’s 2 yr and Chelsea and Savanna’s 1 year Adoption Days. 

Life is good! 

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About Kristin Phoenix

daughter turned teacher turned social worker turned wife turned foster parent turned mom When people who don’t know our family story find out that we fostered and adopted the girls, we generally get one of two reactions…”I would have never known. They look just like you!” or “Oh, how beautiful.” Both of these things are 100% true – on the surface. The picture perfect, shiny, pretty surface. But, just below the surface is a whole lot of mess and brokenness. Our girls endured things that I never even read about in my textbooks. Our family endured things that go completely against the 3 philosophies of safety, permanency, and well-being that the child welfare system is in place to protect. When we have the chance to share a little bit more, the response always goes something like “but…how?!…and why?!” I believe in dreaming big. Part of my dream is a child welfare and healthcare system that would have prevented unnecessary trauma for my girls, my family, and our community. The other part is one of redemption and recovery for everyone involved in our story – which is everyone. I now believe part of why our family endured what we did is so that people would hear our story and ask the hard questions of how and why. With sexual abuse, trauma, foster care, and adoption, we never truly know until we find ourselves in a position of not knowing. Because of the nature of our case, I often found myself in a position of not being able to really answer the hows and whys. I reached a point where staying silent was the only option. Now that our adoptions are finalized, it is time for me to break the silence. This blog is me daring to run after my dreams – even when I find myself out of breath (which is mostly every. single. day.) It is stories of how the collective we have lived up to the Phoenix name and are rising from the ashes to burn bright! I also currently write and edit for Social Justice Solutions
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2 Responses to A Letter to the Judge

  1. Thanks for sharing Kristin. I will be thinking of all of you & celebrating in spirit, the one year adoption date on January 29th! Well done!
    Love & Hugs,
    Dorsi

    Like

  2. So glad your fight against the system prevailed in bringing your girls to their forever home. Ironic that Aug. 29 and Sept 4 are significant dates in your journey because they are also my boy’s birthdays. Have a wonderful celebration!

    Like

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