In his Denied! Failing Cordelia trilogy, adoptive father Simon Cambridge chronicles the dramatic adoption journey of his forever daughter Cordelia both before and during the personal and legal chaos that follows her false accusation of abuse against him in Seattle. This finding is then compounded by misguided interventionist policies taken in Los Angeles after Cordelia resumes her accusations against her father after she is subsequently removed a year later from her adoptive mother’s care.
This intensely personal family drama eventually ends up involving decisions taken by overly hasty social workers, hostile or indifferent lawyers, and one prejudicial presiding judicial officer in the Los Angeles Juvenile Dependency Court.
Prior to the allegations made in July 2009, Cambridge believes he has been making good progress as a single father with addressing Cordelia’s severe reactive attachment disorder. Following the nightmarish and confused involvement of Child Protective Services in his daughter’s troubled life in Seattle, Cordelia is “shipped off” to be with her indifferent adoptive mother (the author’s then-estranged wife Esther) in Los Angeles. Eventually the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Los Angeles Juvenile Dependency Court intervene, and for the third time Cordelia becomes part of a child-welfare “system” seemingly ill-equipped to handle or understand her needs. This lack of understanding extends to how they choose to deny the author’s feelings and misinterpret his motivation.
The author’s four-year struggle to reunite with his beloved daughter involves first trying to negotiate for a greater understanding in Washington state of her needs before being forced to climb a clearly prejudicial and broken judicial ladder in California.
The author explores his daughter’s journey and his own from a deeply autobiographical and instructional perspective. Cordelia’s story cannot be understood without some understanding of child attachment and the therapeutic parenting needed to try to heal challenging adopted children with “special needs.” Similarly, the author’s journey as an adoptive father cannot be appreciated without understanding how his own struggles with Asperger syndrome lent him the focus and determination needed to parent a child and teenager who was developmentally much younger than her given age.
Throughout his trilogy, Cambridge expresses his wish that the Seattle DCFS, the Los Angeles DCFS, and the California legal system could have chosen to see his strengths as a father better. Had they done so, he believes that they would have eschewed their immediate and ill-founded presumptions of intentional and unambiguous child abuse. Except in extreme circumstances, the author believes that the decision to detain children should be taken as a matter of last resort after all else has failed. Moreover, he feels that the child-welfare legal complex should be mandated to consider alternative ways of preserving families where allegations of child abuse can be shown to be ill-founded or where they are based on an unsupported credibility attached to the stories of children with attachment trauma and other well-documented mental-health needs.
The highly motivated and determined author finds his legal journey completely and repeatedly obstructed by social workers uninterested in family reunification, by the prejudice of the presiding judicial officer of the Children’s Court in Los Angeles, and by the overall indifference of lawyers unwilling to deploy their best efforts on his behalf.
Adoptive parents, parents involved in dependency proceedings, social workers, attorneys, and judges should welcome the author’s parenting decision both to walk beside Cordelia on her journey and to offer instructive and reasonable ways that child-welfare and child-detention policies and dependency proceedings could be improved. By such means, the standing of both children and their parents could be rendered more equitable for all involved in the traumatic snare of accusations and allegations of child abuse.
It is a drama best explained in three distinct acts…
Book One: The Cankered Rose and Esther’s Revenge
In The Cankered Rose and Esther’s Revenge, the author looks at how Cordelia became part of the Cambridge family and at the emotional luggage that his daughter brought with her when she transitioned from foster to preadoptive care. Cordelia had been in foster care for several years in 2007 but with the support of a caring social worker (Savannah) in Seattle, Cambridge is able to begin his journey as a preadoptive father of trying to understand the needs of his challenging and troubled daughter. His wife Esther gives up very quickly after Cordelia is adopted on her thirteenth birthday and Cambridge believes that his wife then makes several disastrous decisions to unravel and dismantle the purpose behind their daughter’s adoption journey by deciding to move on her own to Los Angeles in December 2008. Cambridge then shows how Cordelia could only translate the meaning of her newly disorganized world by using the survivalist vocabulary and perspective of her reactive attachment disorder.
The author concludes their adoption journey in The Cankered Rose by looking at how Cordelia further unraveled in Seattle in the six months that remained after her new forever mother left before she finished her eighth-grade year. The rapidly unfolding events of July 8 and July 9, 2009 threatened to derail forever the author’s hopes of continuing to build a forever family for his daughter as a single parent in the Seattle area. The Cankered Rose ends with Social workers in Seattle “shipping” (their words) Cordelia off to Los Angeles to be with her indifferent adoptive mother…
Book Two: Pride and Legal Prejudice
In Pride and Legal Prejudice, Cambridge focuses more on how he fought with personal pride and love for Cordelia against the misguided legal prejudice that he experienced during a three-year dependency court case in Los Angeles. While dependency proceedings had initially been filed against Esther for parental neglect, Cordelia was successfully able to have the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) review her entire adoptive history for parental mistakes made by both her adoptive parents. Cambridge admits to some of his own parenting mistakes and poor judgment but argues in his defense that Cordelia would persist in exaggerating and embellishing the truth for malicious and dramatic reasons. In choosing to believe only Cordelia, the Los Angeles DCFS and the Los Angeles Juvenile Dependency Court willfully decide to ignore all the sound exculpatory answers and motivation given by the author to explain both his daughter’s challenging behavioral history and his own. Cambridge chooses to walk with his daughter throughout the nightmare and tries not to lose sight of the true help that she needs to recover from her traumatic upbringing.
The author will conclude that parent-child reunification needs to involve more than going above and beyond as part of completing a DCFS-supervised case plan and more than being motivated to be present at as many court hearings as possible. It also requires realizing that motivated parents and challenging children need as many weekly or monthly parent-child visitations as it is possible to schedule. There also needs to be a strong legal team that is just as intent on the goal of reunification as the parent and the DCFS and the court have to believe that it is worth making the extra effort needed to facilitate progress. Where none of these extra variables and conditions is met, then the chances of a family reunifying are unfairly reduced.
Cambridge strongly believes that his daughter failed to thrive during her time in DCFS care in Los Angeles and that many mistakes could have been avoided if the assigned social workers had been able to “see better” in the manner of the advice once given to King Lear regarding the attitude of his own flattering (Goneril and Regan) and loving (Cordelia) daughters. Furthermore, if their presiding judicial officer, Commissioner No, had been less prejudiced and if the determination of his own attorneys had matched his own parenting efforts, then much lasting trauma could have been avoided.
The author looks at his own Asperger syndrome to explain some of his flaws and strengths as a parent and argues that the dependency court in his own case took little account of his daughter’s attachment needs and his own difficulties in expressing them. Cambridge contends that this resulted in an imbalance of power and respect in the courtroom and to decisions being taken that would leave his “at-risk” daughter unsafe and vulnerable on the streets of Los Angeles. Moreover, Cordelia would also be left to play at the conclusion of their dependency proceedings with terrifying abandon amongst the ruins of her adoptive forever family.
Pride and Legal Prejudice ends with the conclusion of the author’s long three-year dependency case in the Los Angeles County Children’s Court. Yet Cambridge offers some hints of both father and daughter finding the courage to heal from what he sees as an enforced and unnecessary diversion from their hopeful adoption journey into the tortuous maze of the California legal system…
Book Three: Climbing the Broken Judicial Ladder
In Climbing the Broken Judicial Ladder, Cambridge looks in considerable detail at what happened when he shoved the perspective and orders of the Los Angeles Juvenile Dependency Court into a large and prejudicially weighted backpack and attempted to climb the California judicial ladder. This climb would take him through the California Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District) to the rarefied atmosphere of the California Supreme Court itself, the largest and busiest court of the fifty states and second in importance only to the United States Supreme Court. Each court would deny Cambridge the hearings needed to explain his daughter’s situation and his own.
The author concludes that he could find no clear and obvious way to heal his “denied” family by climbing the broken rungs of the judicial ladder in California. As a result, father and daughter would have to find a difficult alternate path toward family healing and reconciliation outside the legal sphere. The author’s determination to find a suitable road to help his troubled daughter alongside Cordelia’s receptive willingness to meet him there allowed them both to find the courage to heal and share whatever journey lay ahead of them. Their shared trauma at the hands of misguided social workers seeing only the need for draconian solutions to a family crisis may well have made them both stronger for the experience, but it also has made them both more vigilant and suspicious.
The author offers his readers a suggested child-welfare bill of rights and looks at comprehensive ways for making dependency proceedings more equitable for all concerned.