I’ve been in court a few times in the last couple of weeks, and wanted to share some more “best practices” for parents.
- When the Assistant County Attorney (“ACA”) is speaking, listen. Not talking while others are is, of course, basic courtesy. But it’s particularly important to listen to the ACA, because s/he will likely be telling the court (and you) what they expect. If you are busy whispering to your attorney the whole time, you are going to miss what s/he is telling you. And it will likely result in a stern “suggestion” from the judge that you stop talking and listen.
- Focus on what YOU are doing, not what the other parent is (or is not) doing. Juvenile CINA court is not a zero-sum game where one party wins at the expense of another. A real win is when both parents can be sober, healthy, and able to appropriately parent their kids. You likely have a fairly long list of things DHS is asking you to do, and will need to focus all your energy there. That doesn’tmean that if the other parent is endangering the child you ignore it; it just means that you don’t want to constantly harp on what s/he is doing that you don’t like or agree with.
- Stop the drama! Seriously—just stop. It doesn’t help you or your case, and it most certainly does not help your child. Drama and lying are the two fastest ways to turn your DHS worker against you, so pleasedon’t do this.
- Don’t use your kids to get to the other parent. If your child is old enough to have a cell phone, do not call him or her and say, “Let me talk to your dad/mom.” EVEN IF THE OTHER PARENT HAS BLOCKED YOU. Do not use your kids like this. You will need to co-parent, of course, but in my experience, one parent blocks another when that other parent is harassing them, yelling at them, or constantly fighting with them. If you are civil and reasonable, it is highly unlikely the other parent will block you. If s/he does, talk to your attorney about how you should communicate with that person going forward.
- Do NOT ask your kids for money! Do not make them feel guilty about not giving you money or helping you in other ways (providing food, etc.). YOU are the parent. You are supposed to be providing for them, not the other way around. If you try this, your visits will likely go immediately to fully and professionally supervised—possibly even phone calls.
- If DHS asks you to do a drug test, DO IT. If you don’t do it, it will automatically count against you as a positive test, even if you are not using. At this point in your life, you do not get to decide when you do and do not submit to a drug screening.
- Do not ask for more visits if you are not attending the visits you currently have.There are, of course, times when a visit has to be canceled, though that is usually due to inclement weather, sudden or severe illness, or some other emergency. If you have to miss a visit, let your FSRP worker know as soon as you know—don’t wait until after you have missed the visit (unless that is the soonest you can). If you are not consistently exercising visits, the court is not going to award more.
- DO make visits about your kids—not you. Ask them how school went, or soccer practice, or music lessons. Ask them about their friends. Don’t make empty promises, but reassure them that you are trying to do better. Don’t get defensive, and do take responsibility for your mistakes. Tell them you love them, and then show them that by following through on promises and DHS recommendations.
- Do not choose the other parent over your child.This can be a hard one, especially if there is domestic violence involved. But you are in a place where you must put the best interests of your child ahead of that of any adult—including yourself
- Let kids be kids.Please stop talking to them about adult things, including your substance use, the other parent’s infidelity, your need for bail money, etc. By the same token, don’t ask kids to help you find an apartment, provide food, clothing, or money for you, help you fill out forms (unless they are older and it is, for example, a school form about them), etc. Do not badmouth the other parent to them
- Do not criticize your child’s attorney or guardian ad litem to them.We work hard to build up trust with your child so we can advocate for their best interests. When you tell them things that aren’t true, it undermines the relationship, and makes it harder for us to help your child. If you truly think there is a problem, talk to your attorney about it.
Those are the best practices for the day. Let me know if you have others, or if you have questions about any of these.