Monday, May 24, 2010

What I learn

While I'm still compiling cruise posts, I thought I would share something with the readers that may not know what I do for my job. Not that you asked, but I'm telling you anyway, mainly because I have this recent newspaper article and since it's published, it's not "confidential" for me to share with you.
A Carrboro man and woman were charged Tuesday in connection with physical abuse that has left a 1-year-old girl blind, police said.
Christopher Ray McBride, 28, of 810 Old Fayetteville Road, was charged with felony child abuse and felony assault with injury.
The child's mother, Darleene April Fernandez, 26, of 810 Old Fayetteville Road, was charged as an accessory after the fact. Police Capt. Joel Booker said that Fernandez lived with McBride and knew about the abuse but didn't report it.
The girl, whose name wasn't released, was recently treated for serious injuries to the back of her head, base of her skull and spinal cord, Booker said. She also had older injuries.
[continue reading here

The attorney I work for represents Social Services for the two counties in our district. All of our cases deal with children in the foster care system. For the above case, we have the baby in custody of Social Services. Soon we'll go to court to have the juvenile adjudicated and [hopefully] have the judge shoot fire and brimstone at these parents. There is something very different about DSS court. I've only been in a handful of civil and criminal cases [and seen a lot on T.V....] but I've never seen a judge talk to defendants [or in our case, parents] in the way of our DSS court judges. They are the same district court judges that hear all of the rest of the district's cases. But there is something about DSS court. And I think I've finally narrowed down what it is.

These past two weeks that I've been in court, there was a new person sitting near me that isn't usually in DSS court. We have the same attorneys and social workers that come every week so the new faces stand out. Two weeks ago in one county, there was a young man sitting behind me the whole day [preventing me from checking email or browsing Facebook during court.] He didn't get up for a case. No one spoke to him. Finally, at the end of the day's hearings, one of the bailiffs came over and asked him how he liked the court day. Turns out he was a law student at UNC there to observe. He told the bailiff that it was a little slow and he knows that this isn't the kind of law he wants to practice. The bailiff said, "Yeah, it can be slow, but you don't get any more emotion than you do in DSS court." 

The following week in a different county, a young woman was sitting in front of me that I didn't recognize. I noticed she came in with the judge and I later learned that she was his summer intern. She too sat and observed the hearings and at the end of the day, our bailiff asked her her opinion of the hearings. He told her that DSS court is his least favorite court but that today was a quiet day. Otherwise "it can get pretty heated in here." 

Both bailiff's were absolutely correct in their observances of DSS court. Emotion. Every case we hear determines the fate of children and their parents. Parents cry and plead for their children to come home. Some do everything in their power to right the wrongs. Some succeed. Some fail. Some scream at the judge. Some sit there, cold with emotion; indifferent to the experience; indifferent to the damage they cause their child(ren). This emotion is never written on the faces of someone who stole a car, or got a DWI or wrote bad checks. This emotion is unique. It is found only in a parent who is losing the battle against their own demons. Demons that envelope their soul like a cancer, deadening the meaning to words that slip from their mouths: "I love my children". 

Upon uttering this statement, one of our best judges will often ask them a question. This judge rarely yells, but he lectures. The parents hear these lectures for the first time, but we - those that work on these cases every week - hear the lectures on repeat. His followup question to them, which they rarely get right, is "What is the definition of love?" His answer: "Sacrifice." This simple definition explains so fully what love is and what it means to love someone. Love is nothing without an outward expression. To be ignorant of this and learn it for the first time is revelatory. But to know this and not be able to do it is anguish. And that anguish is why parents lose. Every person is capable of replacing that anguish with revelation, determination, ambition. That is when they begin to sacrifice.

To the law student and summer intern that observed what was to them a "slow" court room, you are at a loss. I hope they don't go into law because of paychecks or politics or sexy crime dramas. They will be sorely disappointed. I may only be an administrative push behind the DSS cases but I have learned more about life through these parents' and children's faces than I ever could working in medical malpractice or real estate. If ever there was a question that our world is suffering because of the deterioration of the family unit, come to court with me in our two little counties in North Carolina and see the evidence for yourself. I pray for these parents. And I pray for the children. I pray that they grow up with loving foster/adoptive parents and break out of being a social statistic. We have heard it through the General Authorities of our church- the fall of the family will cause the fall of our nation.


  1. This was moving Kelley. Thank you.

  2. I love what you do Kelley. You are amazing.

  3. What a hard thing it must be to watch the "family" deteriorate right before your eyes. You have always been so insightful with a deep caring for others. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Makes me want to hold my children a little tighter.

    love u.

  4. Well said. Beautifully written.

  5. Good informaiton. My husband is a counselor and has often had to attend court on behalf of clients in custody battles. He used to do on-call work for Child Protective Services. Seeing abused and dead babies really is very upsetting. And then they have all this fight in court that they never had in day to day life. Hard stuff.

  6. Wow! Very well said. I would bet that the parents that find themselves in these courtrooms are often victims of the same abuse or neglect. And there are those in our government who fail to recognize the value of a home with two loving parents and the influence of Judeo-Christian's values. Someday these same parents will appear before another Judge who will perhaps help them see the error of their ways and understand the impact of their actions. Suffer the little children...

  7. I think that is an amazing thing to learn. And I actually would love to do what you do - in a way. Even if I'm not completely sure of your exact job definition. As emotional and sometimes depressing as seeing those court sessions could probably be, it is still interesting and it is still extremely important.

  8. I love what the judge says, that love is sacrifice, because it really is. We need more selfless people in the world today.


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