I am in the process of re-reading the Harry Potter books. I first read them alongside my kids, waiting with anticipation for each new book. JK Rowling’s imagination is stunning, and I love how good always triumphs over evil, even though many hard things happen to the characters.

Currently, I just finished The Goblet of Fire. I was struck by the passage where Hogwarts Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, tells the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, that if he acknowledges that Voldemort is back, and takes action early, he will be remembered as the best Minister of Magic ever. If he denies that truth, his reputation will not, shall we say, be quite as stellar. He will have allowed Voldemort—and evil—a head start from which they may never recover. 

Spoiler alert—he denies it’s true. He does that because he’s afraid, undoubtedly, but also because acknowledging that Voldemort is back would mean a disruption of his comfortable, things-as-they-are life, and would require him to take decisive and sometimes unpopular action. And Fudge does not have that kind of a backbone.

While most of us admire Dumbledore and scorn Fudge, we still tend to behave more like Fudge. And that’s true of the parents and the professionalswe work with, too. 

For their part, parents will deny drug usage (despite positive drug tests), deny that they need therapy or domestic violence interventions, and deny that they’re not engaging in services. The worst denial, however, is the one that occurs when they tell themselves that they have plenty of time to get back on track, when in reality, they are dangerously close to a TPR (termination of parental rights).

Unfortunately, there is also a weird kind of denial going on with the professionals, too, because of how the law is written or works. Reunification is always to be the goal (until it no longer can be, usually because the parent has run out of time, and has not made sufficient process to be reunified with their children). But when the DHS report continues to say, “Reunification is still the permanency goal,” when the worker is doubtful as to whether that is actually going to happen, it gives the parents a false sense of hope. 

My preference would be to have DHS choose one of three different options: Reunification is likely; Reunification is possible; or Reunification is unlikely. This has nothing to do with whether reunification is still the goal, but it does give parents a more realistic view of what DHS is thinking. The way I envision it working is that every case starts with “Reunification is possible,” unless there is a reason why it isn’t likely. Examples of that might include situations where a sibling has died as a result of a parent’s abuse, or if the abuse has been severe enough that there is a no-contact order in place that will likely remain in place beyond the timeframe in which permanency must occur. But other than those kinds of “outliers,” the “possible” choice is default, because at that early stage, the professionals likely don’t know whether it’s likely or unlikely.

The goal is to see that move to “reunification is likely.” This can happen when a parent is actively engaged in services, has a significant period of sobriety, and/or increased number of visits with decreased supervision, for example. If they relapse, it can move back down to “possible.” It would not move to “unlikely” until there has been a significant amount of time with little or no progress. It should nottypically occur too close to a recommendation for TPR, because the point of this rating is to warn the parents that they are in danger of losing custody of their kids permanently. The goal can still be reunification, even with a “Reunification is unlikely” rating, but because the likelihood is low, that tells the parent that s/he is going to need to work hard to accomplish reunification, and that time is of the essence.

This seems like a small change to me, but I have no idea what kind of bureaucratic hoops would need to be jumped through to make it. But it would hopefully help parents face reality a bit sooner, while they can still change course and work towards a positive outcome. 

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