As a new advocate, the first thing that stood out about Melanie Lawhorne as she reviewed a selection of cases to choose from was her desire to advocate children who had experienced some of the most serious cases of physical, emotional, and sexual trauma. The case that Melanie selected involved four girls who were subjected to serious abuse and neglect at the hands of their adoptive parents. The oldest child in the case had made multiple outcries of abuse and neglect in the past, but was so terrified of her adoptive parents that she recanted her outcries multiple times. All four of the children were finally removed from their adoptive parents after the oldest child was able to build up the courage and strength to secretly record an hours long incident of abuse that had been occurring on an almost daily basis.
Melanie signed onto the case and hit the ground running. In the end, Melanie’s advocacy for these children would ultimately change the tide for these girls.
As is often true in our cases, the impacts that our advocates make for their children are not necessarily what they think would make an impact. In Melanie’s case, her ability to take detailed notes would prove to be the biggest factor in determining what was in the children’s best interests at trial. Throughout the case, Melanie combed through every available piece of information regarding the children and their adoptive parents. She attended family visits and spent time with each of the children, noting anything out of the ordinary that was said, what she observed, and reporting the information to CPS. She listened to the recording of the abuse endured by the oldest child, she watched the recorded SAPD interviews with the adoptive father, and she watched each of the children’s forensic interviews. She spoke to the caseworker, the caregivers, the therapists, and to school officials. At court, Melanie would use the information she had gathered to advocate for what the children needed. With the information Melanie was able to gather, it was discovered that the parents would “doctor shop” and that the children were prescribed unnecessary psychotropic medication, that the adoptive father was “grooming” the younger children for sexual abuse, and that the adoptive mother was having unsupervised contact with the children through family members. Although the parents worked services, they continued to maintain that the oldest child had made-up the allegations and blamed her for the situation. As the trial date approached, the oldest child ran from her placement, fearing that she would be returned to her adoptive parents. She was expected to be the key witness in the trial to terminate her adoptive parents’ rights.
Melanie was present for every day of the week long jury trial. As Melanie sat in the courtroom, she was able to provide the Assistant District Attorney and the children’s Ad Litem with information that proved essential in refuting the claims made by the parents’ attorney. None of the other witnesses, including the caseworker, were able to provide the detailed background information that Melanie had compiled throughout the case. Melanie’s ability to take notes and document what she observed changed the course of the children’s fate. Without the information Melanie was able to provide there would likely not have been enough facts and evidence to secure the long-term safety and well-being of the children. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge granted termination of the parents’ rights. Today the three youngest children are in their forever home awaiting adoption. The oldest child returned to care recently, and is hopeful that she can find permanency with an aunt.