It was one of those messages you live for as a GAL. Kids whose lives seemed destined to be lives of sadness and neglect getting a second chance, living with a family that allows them to dream and creates a world for them in which their dreams just may come true.
The message said, “The kids are growing like weeds! They’re both about 40 inches tall. They don’t look anything like toddlers at all anymore. Mikey has decided he wants us all to live in Kentucky with my mom and youngest sister. He wants to have 5 black horses and a river to go fishing in. Susanna wants to have 5 white horses and 3 cows. I don’t know why she wants cows. She says Mommy’s name is Mommy Miss Smith and that her name is Susanna Miss Smith. Mikey tells people his name is Superman Smith.” (All names in the above have been change for all the obvious reasons).
Unfortunately, the message also went on to say that no adoption date had been set because paperwork her attorney had requested from DFYS in the summer had just gotten to him. Which meant that the home study done for the adoption was over a year old and no longer valid. Which meant an adoption home study update had to be done. Which meant even more paperwork to be shuffled around in a case that had already killed at least three old growth forests as it wended its way through the court system and various levels of DFYS.
So when the Governor’s Commission came to the conclusion that perhaps there were too many forms duplicating too much information needed to comply with too many laws that were bumping into each other, I wanted to stand up and scream, “DUH!!!!!!!!”.
Between the paperwork required of DFYS to document every moment in the life of a child in their custody, and the number of meetings that stumble over themselves to document that all relevant state and federal laws are being met in any given case, it’s a wonder that the social worker has time to even eyeball the child once a year, let alone actually work with the families and kids.
As a GAL, I get to sit in on some if not all of these meetings. This means that in any given month I might sit in on a six month placement review, an ICWA out of preference placement review, an out of state placement review, a case plan review and a possible status conference in court, all on the same child. Each and every one of those reviews requires separate forms to be filled out. Each and every meeting requires the social worker to gather up everybody who is anybody in the case as well as a committee that meets specifically to review these issues.
All that occurs, of course, after the child has been in custody and has been placed in some out of home placement. Leading up to that point, the paperwork documenting the report of harm, the investigation results and reports of contact must be documented, as well as the Medicaid paperwork required so the state can provide medical care to the child and the extended family search for a relative willing to take the child.
In those bush offices where one social worker does everything, there is intake paperwork and ongoing case files notes as well as the paperwork needed to license a foster home, emergency license a relative and get additional funds for children with special needs.
Sometime in between all this paperwork, the social worker is supposed to look up and notice a child and family in need and have enough time left over to do something about it – like maybe filling in the forms for all the different rehab programs or special education programs or professional evaluations needed to put the family back together.
And my favorite moment is when the state reaches a point where they go trial to terminate parental rights because it is simply not safe to return the child home. The social worker must then gather up these gazillion forms and put them in an order that will allow the AG to make enough sense of them to try the case in court. And the social worker must make copies for the defense attorneys. And make sure the file is always available in good form should the GAL want to see it or the AG need a specific date or piece of information stashed somewhere around page 9002. In the Bush, this is often done with little to no clerical support.
As a GAL, I have case files that overflow two or three big boxes as well as taking up half a drawer in my file cabinet. Each week I receive at least 10 letters from either DFYS or the AG concerning various required updates, status hearings, and annual reviews. I have whole weeks where I just go from one meeting to another to fulfill some state or federal requirement.
I know we need requirements so that we have some assurance that the system is working and the needs of families and children are being met. But the recent debacle in Florida is proof that just requiring more and more paperwork documentation is no guarantee that children are being served better.
I can’t believe some reasonable person could not go through all these required documents and meetings and come up with a way to combine and compress them into a sensible system that actually allows time for the social worker to work with families. I can’t believe in this age of computers, these forms couldn’t be put on the state’s computer system and be accessed from any state office or anyone with the proper confidentiality code so that whole forests could be saved by never printing a hard copy.
If they don’t come up with a solution soon, I may have to move to a bigger house just to have storage space for all my records. I’m not sure how to bill the state for that new house but I’d be willing to bet it involves more than one piece of paper being filled out.