"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Monday, November 10, 2008

What Tangled Webs

Oh what a long day!

I had court this morning and then went to a school to visit a little girl (I'll call her Becky) to see how things have been going at home. Until a couple of months ago, she lived with her mother and three siblings and was doing pretty well. The parents never married. The mother has had all the children for three years. In July, Becky accused her maternal uncle (who lives with them) of sexually abusing her.

No one really believes Becky was actually abused, as shocking as that sounds. Child Protective Services dismissed the charge and the police detective was so frustrated with her that he reportedly fussed at her. The working theory is that the father encouraged Becky to make the accusations so that he could get custody of the kids and get out of paying child support. Not that he has been making child support payments, anyway... I have no way of knowing what happened but even the father was sending the child back to stay overnight with the maternal uncle present so I don't believe he believes it happened, either.

When I went into this business, I believed what I had always been told, i.e., that children don't lie about that sort of thing.

Nonsense. They do it all the time.

Small children can't make up details about things they know nothing about, However, we frequently see children who have previously been abused make accusations against other (usually males) and it can get pretty dicey to try to figure out what has actually taken place. Becky is old enough that her accusation (which was relatively mild compared to what it could have been, i.e., we aren't talking any DNA evidence) wasn't something that we wouldn't expect her to know about absent abuse or exposure to pornography (another common information source - PARENTS PLEASE PUT UP THE VIDEOS!!!). I always tell my parents that the child making these allegations should be seen by a therapist. If she was abused, she needs it. If she just made it up, there are some serious things going on and she clearly needs help with them.

Children who have damaged their credibility by making false accusations are perfect victims so you still have to check out their allegations. You can't just assume they are lying and you can't just assume they are telling the truth. But if you are a parent, I would hope you would be VERY careful to not dismiss what your child is telling you. Even if you have doubts, I hope you will assure them that you will look into it. And then do it. And keep them safe while you check things out.

But back to Becky. After the allegation of abuse was made, Becky went to live with her father. The other siblings stayed with their mother (and the uncle). The mother put on an emergency hearing to try to get the judge to return Becky to her and I was appointed.

I met all the children (apart from their parents) and visited the homes. By the time of the emergency hearing, Becky was asking to return home. She didn't exactly retract her earlier accusations instead, she said it didn't bother her and she just didn't think about it. She also confided that she'd spend the weekend with the mother and siblings (and maternal uncle), and had gone through her mother's cell phone messages and forwarded them to the father because "he needs to get dirt on her so all the kids can live with us." The father was leaving her alone overnight to go to work (the child is in elementary school!) and, frankly, didn't seem to have any parental instincts or skills to speak of.

I recommended that Becky be returned to her mother's care.

At the emergency hearing, we had a substitute judge. He didn't want to disrupt Becky's placement and declined to return Becky to her mother.

Some days you're the bug.

Following the hearing, the parents got into a screaming knock-down-drag-out in the hallway because the father was claiming that he couldn't afford to feed the kids during visitations on his salary (he makes more than I do). I am not kidding. He was insisting that when he picked up the three other siblings for visits that the mother send money with them to pay for their Happy Meals. Otherwise, he said, they'd go hungry.

That night, he left Becky alone all night (14 hours), again. I was so alarmed that I immediately filed a motion to get back before the regular judge to ask him to reconsider the substitute judge's decision.

Since that time, the father's attorney got so disgusted with him that he quit.

I swung by the school to see Ms. Becky, today. She wasn't there. She's hardly been there since the emergency hearing. When an excuse is given, it is that she is not feeling well.

Poor little darling.

After the unsuccessful school visit, I drove all the way to West Virginia to visit another little girl. What a sweetie she is. She showed me her puppy, her new baby brother, her little room and her toys. Her parents adore her. They keep her safe. It made me feel better.

I ended up being on the road about 6 hours and I'm tired.

We get up first thing in the morning to take Jezebel to see the vet. They are going to look in her nose and - please god - hopefully they won't see anything that shouldn't be there. I think I'll call it an early night.


Nancy said...

Saying a prayer for you and Jezebel.

Penny said...

Thanks, Nancy. And while you're at it, please remember little Becky, too.

ranette said...

How can these kids grow up to be "normal" adults? I had a great childhood and still struggle to be "normal"...my heart breaks for all of the Becky's out there.

I'll be praying for you and Jezebel.