Okay... here's the scoop on the TPR process for Gary.
August: Gary's dad calls Gary, says unkind things including that he (dad) wants to terminate his parental rights.
Shortly there after state social worker (SSW) visits and asks what everyone thinks about TPR and adoption. We tell him that we are absolutely interested in adopting Gary if that is what he wants. Gary says he does, probably when he is done with high school.
September: Court changes case plan from long-term foster care (or whatever it said) to termination and adoption.
People scurry. SSW writes and files documents. Lawyers attempt to contact Gary's parents. All mailings to the mother come back as undeliverable. Attempts to find more current address fail. Everything sent to his father apparently falls into a black hole. There is no response. Notice is put in the newspaper of the father's most recent residence. Department prepares to put notices in the papers of the last known addresses of the mother. Permanency hearing dates are scheduled and are weeks away.
Then I get a phone call from the SSW worker who seems to have suddenly realized that Gary doesn't want to be adopted before he is 18. SSW mentions how expensive it will be to do the notices in the paper for the mother. Says that the department does not think it is important to do TPR if he won't be adopted before then. In fact they have a policy against making teenagers legal orphans if there is no adoption plan.
I tell him that the plan is to adopt Gary when he finishes high school.*
SSW tells me that he will write in the document that Gary is clear about wanting the TPR but is ambivalent about adoption so the department with withdrawal the petition for TPR. I try to clarify.
Agency social worker writes in her report that Gary has expressed a clear desire to "divorce his parents" and be adopted after high school. Though the TPR is not legally necessary for his eventual adoption, it is psychologically important to Gary.
Social worker files a petition (or whatever) telling the court that based upon Gary's ambivalence about being adopted, they will no longer be seeking TPR.
Okay, now we are up to this week.
I talked to my family lawyer friend who says that standard practice is to seek parental consent for adult adoptions when there has been no TPR.
Today there was a different state worker, one who does not seem to have difficulty understanding simple declarative sentences. I explain what the lawyer said and that I would like for the TPR determination to go forward. She checks with Gary and agency to see if they agree. They affirm that is what they have been saying all along. She says she will explain that to the lawyer.
We enter the court. There is a new judge, younger, more formal. He reviews the status of the case saying that his report from the department is that everyone, including the agency and Gary, have changed their minds about the adoption plan and so the department is withdrawing the petition for TPR. He asks Gary if he has anything to add. Gary states that he does want to correct the record. He does want the TPR to happen although he doesn't want to be adopted until after he is 18. The judge is clearly listening. This is important to him.
The judge asks if Roland and I have anything to add. I say, "Yes, your honor. We are in the process of adopting our older children from foster care. The family lawyer has told me that standard practice is to seek parental consent if there has not been a TPR. Since we plan on adopting Gary when he is ready, I favor the TPR." (Okay, I might not have been that eloquent, but that is how I remember it.)
The judge asks the state worker what she thinks. She says that they are in favor termination and adoption as the plan for Gary. There change was based upon a mis-understanding of what the family and Gary wanted. (Yeah, right). Given what we have said, she would like to re-instate (or not withdrawal or whatever) the petition.
The judge asks the GAL. She reports that this is not her case but that the previous GAL favored termination.
So it is back on. Judge asks if there is any reason why there have been two hearings scheduled for the TPR. No one has any reason. He confirms with everyone that all attempts to contact the parents so far have had no results. So he consolidates the hearings. In two weeks the court will consider the termination of both parents' rights.
And I feel like a weight has lifted, like we have decided that someone who has been sick for along time will be allowed to die. It is sad. I may wish that many things were different, but this the right thing to do. It is what is best for everyone else. It is time to let go.
On the way home Gary told me happily about that this means that he doesn't have to feel guilty about them or anything. They aren't going to be his parents and it just doesn't matter what they think ever again. He says, "And it will because of something *I* did. I decided, not them."
I think to myself that it is not going to be that simple for him, but I get it.
* Note: Gary will tell you "when after I turn 18." He also has a plan in which he finishes high school within a month of turning 18. If you can get him to consider the possibility that it might take longer to graduate, he will tell you that he wants to be adopted after that. It isn't really about his age. It is about him wanting to continue to receive full support from the agency for as long as he would have in any case. He LIKES his agency social worker.)