He had to repeat himself a few times, but the message from 3rd District Juvenile Judge Andrew Valdez was perfectly clear: Start the visits now and get Heidi Mattingly Foster‘s children home well before June.
The judge met Friday afternoon with attorneys to clarify the order he issued late Wednesday in the child welfare case involving Mattingly Foster, polygamist John Daniel Kingston and nine of their 11 children.
“I was kind of hoping the kids would have had a visit already,” Valdez said.
The parents’ attorneys got it right. State attorneys got it wrong.
Valdez attributed the confusion to the late hour and his own exhaustion after the three-day hearing, which ended about 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Nichols and Anthony Ferdon, a guardian ad litem in the case, both said Thursday there would be no visits until therapists for mother and children met – unlikely to happen until next week – and they agreed on things to be addressed in those “therapeutic” visits. Issue No. 1, according to Nichols: admission of wrongdoing and Mattingly Foster’s apology to the children.
Both attorneys also said the judge had not ordered that the children be returned home.
Yes, I did, Valdez said, adding that he didn’t expect their first meeting to be a “full-court-press therapy session.”
Supervised, yes, maybe in an office, maybe even a park.
“It’s even OK for Mom to tell the children, ‘You’re going home,’ ” said Valdez, though he asked that she not set a specific time when that will happen. “I just want Mom to enjoy her visit with the kids.”
Mattingly Foster has not seen most of the nine children, who range in age from 2 to 16, since Feb. 8, when Valdez suspended supervised visits after allegations of kidnapping and bomb plots surfaced. She lost custody of them in October.
A clinical coordinator for the state Division of Child and Family Services told the judge she thought it would be possible to arrange a visit next week.
Valdez answered: “No, no, no. I want it today, this weekend.”
When both Ferdon and Nichols asked the judge to clarify whether he was authorizing a trial home placement, he said it again.
“I am saying a transition into the home and it is not dependent on the therapist’s recommendations,” he said. “I expect this to happen and not wait 60 days. I am not going to leave it to the discretion of the [guardian ad litem.] It’s ordered.”
After Mattingly Foster’s attorney, Gary Bell, said he, too, expected the children would be home for good by June, Valdez answered, “Or sooner.”
A review hearing is set for June 28.
Valdez said he wants the therapists to jointly decide on how many supervised visits – not therapy sessions – how to move to unsupervised and extended visits, and whether the children will go home in groups or all together.
Valdez asked that adversarial posturing between the state and Mattingly Foster stop.
He said the children undoubtedly will experience emotional upheaval moving from foster care to home, and said the therapists are to help make the transitions as positive and smooth as possible.
Valdez said his order will have Mattingly Foster continue with individual, group and family therapy and that therapy will be offered to the children if needed. He also wants DCFS to provide her with a peer parent.
The judge acknowledged all this hinges on her continued progress, cooperation with the children’s caseworker and that she is meeting the children’s educational and health needs.