What a Difference a Sidebar Makes

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Years ago, while working in social services, I was involved in a case with a family where a woman was trying to regain custody of her children, both teenage girls. She had made a very compelling and sympathy-inducing presentation in my office, and when she asked me to write a letter of support for her, to be presented to the courts, I agreed. She had turned around from addictions, she had a job, and life was promising to get better. The court date was set, and so I wrote my letter. It was a pretty good one, I thought. But in the meantime, I had individual meetings with the girls to get them set up in school, etc., and it was in the course of those conversations that I discovered that these girls had both been subject to terrible neglect and worse, by the mother and her partners, when mom essentially left the girls to the devices of her “partner of the day.” It became further evident that their mother’s primary interest in getting them back in her household, was the increased social service allotment that would be afforded her. So knowing the court day, I went. When her case came forward, because of all the materials the mom had gathered, the judge’s decision was going to be pretty pro-forma and brief, on the strength of the letters and recommendations from social workers, counselors, etc. So I asked the clerk to have a word with the judge, in order to ensure that she had all the relevant information. We talked for quite some time, and at the end of it all, she ordered a protective services investigation, after which, mom was charged and convicted of child endangerment. What a difference a sidebar makes!