Cold Case Project Success Story

By Pat Buonodono

“I have waited my whole life for you…” – these are words every child longs to hear from their mother and father.  Sadly, not every parent is capable of imbuing their children with this feeling of how special and amazing they are – or how loved. 

Andrew and RebeccaThis was the case for Andrew and Rebecca.  They lived with their parents and two older brothers.  But life was pretty rough – the kids’ mom was hospitalized for attempting suicide; there was no running water in the home; all four children were outside, unsupervised, at 1:00 a.m.; their father was in jail for terroristic threats and child cruelty – he walked through the home with loaded guns, threatening the mom with the children there.  Domestic violence between the parents was ongoing.  DFCS had been involved with the family previously, and in July 2011, a judge signed an order removing the children from their home.  They were placed in foster care, and the parents’ rights to the children were terminated early in 2013, because the parents had not done anything required of them to get the children back into their custody.

So all four children were available for adoption in 2013 – Andrew and Rebecca’s older brothers went to live with a cousin in another state, while Andrew and Rebecca remained in foster care.  They spent almost 70 months in foster care.  Because they were in care so long, were free for adoption, and met other criteria, their names came out on a list of children whose cases needed some extra attention to get them to a permanent home. 

The extra attention provided came from a project that started with the Supreme Court’s Committee on Justice for Children, called the Cold Case Project; it is now managed through the Office of the Child Advocate.  In the Cold Case Project, the children’s cases are reviewed in depth by attorneys (“fellows”) who specialize in child welfare law, who then write a summary and make suggestions to get the children’s cases moving.  Through collaboration with the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), information about the cases is shared so that as much expertise as needed is given to each case.  A meeting is held to discuss each case, called a Permanency Roundtable Plus (PRTP).  Andrew and Rebecca’s first PRTP was this past spring, and was attended by two fellows and seven DFCS workers who were involved in the case, or whose expertise was needed to move the case along.  As the work progressed, their attorneys, the DFCS attorney, and many others became involved.

Andrew had extreme mental health needs; he had a list of diagnoses and was on a plethora of medications.  He is, among other things, autistic.  Both children acted out sexually and needed constant supervision.  They were in a stable foster home, but through the efforts of their adoption case manager, the cousin who adopted the two older brothers was located in Alabama.  The family thought Andrew and Rebecca had already been adopted, but when they found out they weren’t, immediately asked to have the children placed with them. 

Adoptive Family of Andrew and RebeccaThere were barriers to completing this adoption – the adoptive parents lived in another state, so it was complicated as an interstate approval process had to be undertaken.  But with diligent efforts the adoptive parents completed all that was asked of them, and were approved.  The Cold Case Project paid for the parents’ transportation for two pre-adoptive visits with Andrew and Rebecca, both of which went extremely well.  Andrew and Rebecca definitely wanted to be adopted and live with their brothers!  One legal hold up was that the court in Georgia that had done the termination of parental rights would not release the termination order, which was required in order for the other state to allow the adoption.  Cold Case Project fellow, Mary Herman, went to the court that issued the order, spoke with the judge, and left with a copy of the order to give to DFCS so that the adoption could take place.

Andrew and Rebecca were adopted in August and now live with their parents and their two older brothers.  They are a family again – this time, a happy family – thanks to the cooperative efforts of DFCS, the Office of the Child Advocate, and the Cold Case Project.

 

Please see the 2016 Cold Case Annual report here or visit J4C.georgiacourts.gov.

 

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