By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Standing alone in the crowded hallway outside Denver Juvenile Court, Tiffany McAdam folds her arms tightly across her chest to calm her shaking. She is waiting for the hearing in which Judge Dana Wakefield will rule on the fate of her four-year-old son, Martin -- the boy whom police took from her during a drug-induced nervous breakdown a year ago -- as well as that of her newborn son, whom she hasn't seen since his foster mother took him home from the hospital in July. Tiffany had taken two hits of methamphetamine four days before he was born, and social workers had deemed her an unfit mother. She anxiously covers the patches of her fair skin that are scabbed from scratching, remnants of a bacterial infection that's plagued her for a year. The sores look like those of a methamphetamine user, and people often assume that's what they are -- especially given her history.
Denver Department of Human Services caseworker Kathy McGirt's written report to Wakefield, submitted two weeks prior to this August 31 hearing, says that Tiffany and her husband, David McAdam, have been in compliance with their treatment plans for seven weeks, but they are not ready to be parents. It's not in Martin's best interest, she adds, to delay permanency by giving the parents more time. She recommends that David's brother, John, get permanent custody of the boy.
Tiffany, however, believes that would be a horrible mistake. She doesn't have a relationship with her brother-in-law -- let alone a good one -- and with guardianship, John would have every right to keep her son away from her and David. Instead, the McAdams are clinging to the hope that the judge will give them more time to prove that they can stay off drugs and out of jail. If they can't, John is an alternative to the nightmare of having their son adopted by strangers and their parental rights terminated.
"We can't screw up," David tells Tiffany, standing with his face a few inches from hers. "There's no room for error. I'm not going to screw up. We're going to get our son back. We're going to get our son back."
"Tell me you trust your brother," she says.
"What choice do we have?" he asks.
"Tell me you trust your brother."
"He's not going to hurt Martin."
Unconvinced, Tiffany finds McGirt so she can stress to her, once more, that uncle John is not a safe choice for her son. She wants her kids home, but if that can't happen, she'd much rather see them with her brother in Virginia. Tiffany tells the caseworker that her brother-in-law's 1998 felony conviction for meth distribution involved guns, something she and David have never possessed.
By the time the hearing begins, DDHS has changed its recommendation. McGirt tells the judge there is new information about the placement that requires investigation. Something about a sawed-off shotgun in the house, adds City Attorney Laurie Kaczanowska, who notes the progress the McAdams have made in recent weeks and says it would be in the boys' best interest to give the parents more time to work toward reunification. As both parents break down in tears, the judge asks Tiffany how she could "sit there and smoke with that baby right below your face." She stumbles through an apology until David, a former heroin addict, interrupts.
"I'm about to lose my son for [my past] mistakes," he chokes in a pleading tone. "I'm scared to death. I like who I am now. I'm tired of being who I was. I feel I've been compliant from the get-go. I just feel I deserve a chance. All I'm asking for is an opportunity, time to show I can stay out of jail."
Wakefield asks David how many times he's been to jail since he turned eighteen. "Too many."
"How many times for drugs?" he asks
"All of them," David replies.
"What did you do to protect that baby?" the judge demands.
"I was incarcerated, Your Honor," David says softly.
The judge reminds the parents that it has been a full year since their case began, and, according to the law, the court is now supposed to place their son in a permanent home. "I want you to listen to me good," Wakefield says. "The public has no clue what's happening to children in our society. The legislature and Congress became aware in the last decade. They've changed the law to make things move very fast. Some would argue they're pushing people too quickly -- that people with drug addiction, for instance, can't recover that fast. You two prove it beyond any doubt.
"Look at what's in front of me," he continues. "What's happened since we gave you treatment plans? Dad -- mistake. Mom -- tragic mistake. If I give you a chance and you fail, everyone has a right to say, 'Judge, what were you thinking? That's why the law is there.' But if you've gotten it together to stay, what a tragedy it would be if I took both of your children away forever. If I don't give you that chance, what a tragedy. If the child was in foster care, I'd say too late, too little."