Diane Donovan, Editor and Senior Reviewer

Author of San Francisco Relocated

Donovan’s Literary Services 

California Bookwatch


The third book in the series Denied! Failing Cordelia: Parental Love and Parental-State Theft in Los Angeles Juvenile Dependency Court continues Simon Cambridge’s story of how he adopted a child with RAD (reactive attachment disorder) and ran afoul of child protective services in his efforts to help her. It focuses on the court system of child welfare, appeals processes, and the failures of the juvenile court to properly represent and protect a child’s interests.

This is a book that should not have had to be written. Under ideal circumstances, the controversies and impact of Simon Cambridge’s decisions and concern for his child should have resulted in a different outcome.

However, the purpose of this story is to document exactly how and why the juvenile court fails both parents and children, and in this Cambridge provides an exact, damning, thought-provoking consideration of the processes and methods which work against real justice.

It’s important to note that Cambridge opens this third book with specific advice on how to properly absorb its contents, which include technical briefs, arguments, court processes, appellant replies, procedural background, oral arguments, and more legalese.

By now, it should be more than evident that Climbing the Broken Judicial Ladder is far more than a memoir of fighting the court system. It’s a procedural guide to the give-and-take of legal methods that documents specific events and relationships between parents, social workers, and various court processes.

Acts of futility are charted, along with choices that could have made a positive difference to family-reunification prospects, creating a survey strong in its assessment of juvenile court proceeding pros, cons, and the impact on parents struggling with its rules and regulations.

It should also be noted that this is no light legal read, but holds over a thousand pages of detail. Parents struggling with court processes will find it both useful and weighty reading, containing many invaluable keys to better approaches to working through a system that can be as dysfunctional as any situation surrounding the child and his parents.

Climbing the Broken Judicial Ladder serves its main purpose as an instructional memoir packed with lessons, observations, tips and traps, and insights for those working within and through such a system. Within the story of Cambridge’s foster child, who is adopted, then detained, lies a broader consideration of justice that should be on the reading lists of not just parents and potential adoptive parents, but anyone concerned about juvenile rights, justice, and legal systems.

Under another hand, this trilogy might have been condensed to a single book offering quicker reading—but that would be a shame. Its detailed complexity is exactly what sets it apart from others. Climbing the Broken Judicial Ladder is a specific instructional that goes beyond personal outrage and parenting trauma to address many of the main failings of child protective courts and systems in this country.

No social, legal, or juvenile issues reader should be without this complex, well-detailed examination of child-detention policies, child abuse, and suggestions for the legal reform of California’s child welfare system.


Pacific Book Review

Reviewed by: Anthony Avina

One of the toughest jobs and greatest privileges a person can have is being a parent. As Julianne Moore once said, “Parenthood is a very, very intense experience.” Yet what happens when a parent is forced to fight for the right to raise their child? That is the question asked in the third book in a series, author Simon Cambridge’s book Denied! Failing Cordelia: Parental Love and Parental-state Theft In Los Angeles Juvenile Dependency Court. Book Three: Climbing the Broken Judicial Ladder.

This book tells the story of a parent who examines the painful process of the legal system in regards to the custody and welfare of their adoptive daughter Cordelia, a young girl with severe reactive attachment disorder. In this third book, the author explores the process of moving through the California Court of Appeals, and from there to the California Supreme Court, to fight for the right to raise their child and do what is truly best for them.

This was an incredibly detailed and powerful read. The author does a marvelous job of outlining the work that goes into the painful process of these court proceedings, from the complex emotions that go through the stages of the cases to the difficulty of finding the right lawyer and the failings of those who came before, and even the scrutiny a parent will face even to the most minute of details when in the midst of a court battle. Allegations, inept representation and high running emotions fueled the case presented by the author, and speaks to many parents out there who have either experienced this themselves or any parent who has ever feared losing custody of their child.

This is a book for anyone who enjoys memoirs, non-fiction reads and detailed analysis from a personal perspective and experience within the family and child welfare court system, stemming even to the state Supreme Court. The book does a magnificent job of both conveying the heartbreak and emotions fueling this case with the detailed analysis of each stage of the court proceedings and process, which gives others going through similar situations an opportunity to read and familiarize themselves with the potential trials they may face in their own cases.

This was a tragic, informative and relevant read that many will find valuable in their own lives. Exploring both the personal and emotional side of the court proceedings and the legal, complex nature of the court system overall and the mishandling of the court and various other institutions involved in the case, this book touches on a subject which is far too often ignored, and the author does a wonderful job of bringing it into the light for all to see. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy of Denied! Failing Cordelia: Parental Love and Parental-state Theft In Los Angeles Juvenile Dependency Court. Book Three: Climbing the Broken Judicial Ladder by Simon Cambridge today!


The US Review of Books

Denied! Failing Cordelia: Parental Love and Parental-State Theft in Los Angeles Juvenile Dependency Court: Book Three of Climbing the Broken Judicial Ladder
by Simon Cambridge
book review by Heather Brooks

“I strongly believe that my commitment has added meaningful value to my daughter’s life.”

When she accuses her adoptive father of sexual abuse, a thirteen-year-old girl referred to as “Cordelia” is removed from parental custody and placed in state care. Cordelia is no ordinary disgruntled teenager in rebellion. She experiences reactive attachment disorder (RAD) after severe mistreatment from her birth mother. It causes her to reveal inappropriately intimate details of the alleged abuse to anyone who will listen, including perfect strangers. Meanwhile, she vacillates between shunning and craving contact with her adoptive parents. Her adoptive mother does not share this desire, and for the second time in Cordelia’s life, a mother figure abandons her. The dysfunctional and overworked Department of Child and Family Services cannot adequately address her mental health problems and places credence in each of her ever-changing accounts of parental abuse. Only one person remains steadfast in his devotion to Cordelia’s best interest—the very father she accused.

Cambridge’s trilogy, of which this is the final installment, details the author’s quest as Cordelia’s adoptive father for the right to reunite with and care for the fragile girl he calls his “forever daughter.” The text includes both imaginary and delicately edited real court documents from the entire dependency court case. To discern between actual and theoretical documents, one must read carefully. The author is quick to explain that although he lives with Asperger’s syndrome, he is a fully competent adult, with fatherly feelings and concerns, who simply happens to have a disability. This is a refreshing perspective on disability in general. Throughout, he encourages parents in similar situations to stand up to the judicial system for themselves and the welfare of their children and offers suggestions, based on his own experience, of how to go about it. He offers hope for reconciliation with an account of his reunions with Cordelia and the current, full healing of their relationship.


Diane Donovan, Editor

Donovan’s Literary Services

Midwest Book Review/Bookwatch

Author of San Francisco Relocated


Denied! Failing Cordelia Book Two: Pride & Legal Prejudice provides the second book in a trilogy about an adoptive father’s efforts to battle through the courts in a dependency case that led him to advocate for both her and his parental rights. It should be noted that this second book follows on the heels of preceding history. Readers should ideally have read the first book, The Cankered Rose and Esther’s Revenge, and its extensive background before embarking on this ongoing story of court struggle, legal team efforts, and parental and child rights. Those with such a background who already know the detail and legal descriptions of its predecessor will find Pride & Legal Prejudice an outstanding continuation of the story. It is a gripping focus not just on court proceedings and legal team maneuvers, but the father/daughter relationship under question.

From Cordelia’s escape and adventure as her father tries to assure her safety to Cambridge’s struggles with legal propriety versus the child’s ultimate best interests, this story is replete with reflections that focus on the conundrums he constantly faces which tear him in different directions: “Yes, it was technically illegal [Cordelia’s flight to be with the author in Washington State], but the court had determined that reunification was the central goal of the case. Yes, Cordelia was a supervised child under the legal authority of the DCFS but she was also the victim of what her attorney had already determined was gross mismanagement by the department. After all, we had a hearing date contesting the DCFS on this very point. Yes, in the sense that she was a kiddo with RAD and her behaviors were being shaped by this reality. Her prospects would always seem better to me in the Seattle area than they ever had or would in Los Angeles. On the other hand, I would strongly advise against following suit if there is any chance at all of the legal path working as well as it should when reunification really is the goal of the case.”

It should be noted that in no way does Cambridge’s account purport to represent legal counsel for other adoptive parents caught in court battles. This is a memoir designed to document a particular case, set of circumstances, and the logic behind decisions which, at times, were legally conflicted. It is not intended to serve as a blueprint for others to follow. That said, Pride & Legal Prejudice outlines a series of confrontations and courses of action, along with the evolving and changing relationship between father and teen child that stemmed from this conflict and their efforts to reunify against the backdrop of a dependency case that offered few easy choices and which crushed most of them when they were made. This focus adds an extra dimension of understanding and legal savvy to a story that rests on emotional connections and conflicts.

There’s a back-and-forth feel to events as Cambridge reviews the failures of court and community proceedings, missed opportunities, and misguided interventions: “I wanted the commissioner to consider the available family focused opportunities that still existed at the time for Cordelia, including the full range of Seattle-based options, and to reflect on the many missed openings that existed when my daughter was most committed to the idea of reunification.”

At the same time, insights are candidly given into the circumstances which led this dependency case to evolve in the first place: “Both Maureen and Mr. O’Reilly argued that I had made insufficient progress in my completed case plan because I was refusing to accept my daughter’s embellished version of the parenting mistakes that had led to our having a dependency case to begin with. The DCFS and the CLC both saw this as “denial” and even arrogant. My opponents also believed that I was incapable of following court orders and that I was more interested in defying the court’s decisions for my own reunification goals. In turn, such goals – or at least my approach to them – were viewed by both Maureen and Mr. O’Reilly as ‘obsessive’ and ‘unhealthy’.”

This is especially notable because it would have been all too easy for Cambridge to build a one-sided case without equal opportunity to explore the perceptions of those opposing him. His approach lends a full-faceted feel to the legal proceedings and their underlying emotional conundrum that will enlighten and intrigue not just parents going through similar court conflicts, but members of the legal community, social services providers, and anyone involved in legal cases revolving around parental rights and parent/child relationships.

His observations of the overall process and its impact beyond his own case and experiences is particularly well done: “On the other side of the door to Room 101, it is highly unlikely that anyone enjoys what they do or feels that they have had a good day when they go home. Secondary or vicarious trauma is probably as much an issue for court commissioners as it is for the public defenders and social workers. I would see miserable parents, bored children, frustrated public defenders, harried attorneys, and a commissioner who has spent several decades working her way through a very dysfunctional caseload. Commissioner No has probably seen relieved parents and angry parents, abused children and those more than happy to be allowed to return home whether or not they were first detained for valid reasons. Yet, in this same dysfunctional and chaotic environment, decisions are made in the cool light of legal truth to ‘sever and terminate’ the parent-child bond. While for some parents and children this might be a matter for relief or sullen indifference, for other parents and their children it is not.”

Anyone concerned about the ultimate impact of court proceedings and choices on a child’s best interests must read this book. It’s a compelling testimony of the promise, ideals, and nightmares of the court system – one which should be.