Conflicting views: The sides still argue over the intent and facts of the judge’s ruling
On Wednesday, 3rd District Juvenile Court Judge Andrew Valdez said he wanted visits between the 33-year-old mom and nine of her children to start immediately.
“I want her to see her kids. I don’t know if we can get that done tonight,” the judge said. Given the hour – it was close to 8 p.m. when the hearing ended – that was impossible.
It also apparently proved impossible to set up a visit Thursday and was up in the air for today.
Valdez said he wanted supervised visits to begin immediately, followed by extended visits in Mattingly Foster’s home. He also asked that family therapy begin. “I want reunification,” the judge said.
And he ordered that the couple’s 15-year-old son – Valdez said the two hit it off Tuesday when they discovered a shared interest in raising pigeons – be placed with kin immediately. The move took place Wednesday night.
Gary Bell, Mattingly Foster’s attorney, and Daniel Irvin, attorney for Kingston, both said that of all the children, the teen ought to be returned home immediately. But Craig Bunnell, the Guardian Ad Litem for the teen, asked for a transition period while the boy continues to work on his “issues” and Mattingly Foster proves herself.
The boy spent five months confined at Valley Mental Health’s adolescent facility after he and seven siblings were taken out of their mother’s home on Oct. 19.
The boy and his siblings told Valdez on Tuesday during a meeting in the judge’s chambers they want to go home.
Bell said one child put it this way: “I really, really, really, a billion times really, want to go home to mom.”
Mattingly Foster left Wednesday’s hearing confident she would see her children “this week” and that they would be back in her home before she returns to court on June 28.
“That is what the judge ordered tonight,” she said.
Or did he? It seemed like everyone in the courtroom heard Valdez say something different – the kind of interpretation problem that has characterized the yearlong case from the start.
Bell said he interpreted Valdez’s order to mean that visits would start immediately. The first couple of visits might take place at a therapist’s office, but would quickly transition to visits at home. Eventually, the children would move back home, he said.
“The order is the children are to be transitioned home,” Bell said. “The judge ordered the therapists to get together and work out a timetable for that.
“And the intention is to have all the children back in the home well before the June 28 hearing,” he said.
Not according to Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Nichols.
Nichols, who along with Guardian Ad Litem Kristin Brewer opposes reunifying the family, said Valdez ordered only “therapeutic visits” – that is, visits overseen by the children’s’ and mother’s therapists.
Those visits aren’t to start, she said, until all the therapists get together and decide how they will proceed and “the therapy issues” to be included.
“That happens first,” Nichols said.
Nichols said Mattingly Foster still needs to detail her abusive behavior – though the judge didn’t state that in his order Wednesday and her own attorney said it is a moot issue.
“I guess the question is going to be, ‘Will she validate the children’s concerns with them, in therapy,’ ” Nichols said. “You heard the testimony, and it was conflicting. He wants the visits to start but the therapists are to be involved. Those will be therapeutic decisions on what they do.
“The therapists will determine the parameters of the visits,” said Nichols, adding they don’t include a trial home placement. “The children’s therapists are still going to require that she be able to show empathy to the children.”
The question is, “Is she going to stop playing games with DCFS and cooperate . . . or continue to be evasive and secretive and manipulative,” Nichols said.
Anthony Ferdon, a guardian ad litem, came away with a similar view. He thought the judge asked for the therapists to come up with a plan that would include supervised visits and then “if those go well to look into extended visits.”
“He never authorized a trial home placement,” Ferdon said.
None of this comes as a surprise to Bell.
He anticipated there would be competing views of how to proceed, and had asked Valdez even before he left the courtroom Wednesday night for permission to seek clarification.
“This is exactly what I’m afraid of – meetings being delayed, visitation being delayed and even when the therapists meet, just having a transition plan prepared by the 28th and not having the children in the home by then,” he said.
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