Family Court Philosopher:
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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #72, 1/20/2007


By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

Family Services caseworker Shari Sanchez on one of her rare visits to our home. Also shown is my former foster daughter Patricia and my ex-wife.

Last night, I forgave a dead woman.

It was a no-brainer. She was already dead, so I wasn't going to get very far in the revenge department. The most I could have done by attacking her would be to hurt her surviving children, which was not desireable. Last night, it occurred to me in a dream: How about forgiveness? I did it right then and there, in the backyard of her home in East Las Vegas. I gave her a brief summary of what had happened over the past three years and the mistakes that she made, which she seemed to accept. We hugged, and we both cried, and that was it.

I don't know how she feels, but I feel better.

The woman's name is Karen N-----, deceased about six months now. She was a foster parent and eventual adoptive parent of the younger sister of my own foster child, Patricia.

If you haven't read the story elsewhere on this website, I raised Patricia as her father from birth to the age of 5-1/2, when my wife had a mental breakdown, and the child was taken from our home. "Taken from our home" doesn't convey the full depth of it. This child was tortured by the state. The caseworker accepted my wife's paranoid rants as truth and refused to talk to me in any form. The child was passed from one destructive foster placement to another, with strict instructions that I not have any contact with her.

Two of those placements were with Karen N-----. Unlike the caseworker, who never return a single phone call from me, Karen talked with me briefly on the phone, but she never acknowledged having the child in her home and wasn't interested in listening to my side of the story. She and I had had a warm relationship for years, and she should have known that the claims were false, but she accepted the word of others and didn't bother to investigate herself.

Shortly after the child was taken from our home, I sent a email to Karen and her husband, Frank N-----, explaining what had happened. Frank responded with a phone call saying that I was not to email them, phone them or visit them.

"We're going to trust the state on this one," he said.

Those words have burned in my brain ever since. We both had the same caseworker, who had done close to nothing on our case for years. After countless unnecessary delays, the birth mother's parental rights had finally been terminated, but adoption was creeping along at a snail's pace. The caseworker was renowned for not returning phone calls and not keeping appointments, but the N-----s were going to trust her.

I learned later that after the child was taken from our home, she was placed immediately with the N-----s, in deliberate secrecy from me. Patricia apparently reacted badly to the placement (and perhaps to the whole notion that her father was a threat to her) and was rejected by the N-----s a couple of months later. Thus began Patricia's odyssey in foster care hell. I know only the bits and pieces of it that filtered to me from my now ex-wife. Whether accurate or not, I felt tortured in sympathy with my child. There wasn't a single night in two years that I slept well.

One potential adoptive family, I heard, wanted only a blond-haired, fair-skinned female, which they got with Patricia. This mother made Patricia throw away the tattered baby blanket that she had held close since birth. When I heard that, I cried. If you had known what adventures and misadventures that blanket had been through, you would have cried, too.

I could only stand by helplessly on the outside, unable to get any response from the state even after I hired a lawyer, Rebecca Burton, to try to get through. The lawyer went through the chain of command at DFS and eventually talked briefly to the caseworker. The caseworker told the lawyer she would talk to me, but she never did. The lawyer also informed me that as a foster parent, I have absolutely no legal rights even to see the child.

This is what you get for 5-1/2 years of dedication to a child—absolutely no acknowledgement whatsoever, not even a single returned phone call.

The caseworker's name was Shari Sanchez. She is also dead, but I haven't forgiven her yet.

The only thin thread of influence I had was to go to court. There was only a tiny window of opportunity every six months when the case was reviewed by a judge at a court hearing. I understood at first that these hearings were closed and that as an "ex" foster parent, not a current one, I had no right to attended. Eventually, however, I learned that hearings were open. Unfortunately, it took me a while to get oriented to the court system, and I missed the first hearing following Patricia's removal. I'm not really sure at this point whether it would have made a difference. The court might have ordered the caseworker to talk to me, but it couldn't have ordered competence or sensitivity.

Shari Sanchez, in my mind, was nothing better than a concentration camp guard, moving bodies around without any consciousness of them as human beings. Even if I had been able to talk to her, I doubt that my bond with the child would have had any significance to her.

After her removal from our home and her rejection from Karen's, Patricia was considered a problem child who was burning through one foster placement after another. Karen N-----, perhaps with a spark of compassion, took Patricia back into her home about a year after she had turned her away. I was in court when Karen announced her intention to adopt Patricia. I did not object to this, because at least somebody wanted her.

However, Karen then sent her away again a few months later and Patricia returned to foster care hell.

At a later hearing in the summer of 2005, Judge Hardcastle ordered a formal psychological evaluation of both myself and my ex-wife to see if we might be suitable placements for this difficult-to-place child. This seemed like a victory, since I knew how the test would come out.

I was living in the desert at the time, still struggling to support my unemployed ex-wife and her kids. I knew that I was in no position to adopt the child myself; I only wanted to have contact with her and play some kind of role in her transition. I knew that I was important to her, and that Family Services had essentially murdered me as far she was concerned. (It is like the Secret Police coming into your house one night, taking away your father and telling you that thereafter he was dangerous and an enemy of the state.) I figured that if the caseworkers had a written report in their hands saying that I was sane, they might actually talk to me and give me an opportunity to see her.

Fat chance. Between the time the evaluation was ordered and when it was presented to the court, the county (Foster care was now under county control.) had managed to find a permanent placement for the child. This was said to be a very large family with many adoptive children. (It could be a "puppy mill" that processes a lot of children for the subsidy they receive, or it could be generous parents who truly care about their kids. I prefer to reserve judgment.) Patricia's adoption by the new family was then completed in exactly six months, the legal minimum (whereas, my wife and I got no action for years when the child was available and we were eager to adopt).

My ex-wife was allowed to see the child on many occasions, but I never was, even after the psychological evaluation was complete. My written request to see her was rejected by the new caseworker on the grounds that her court-appointed attorney (Kevin Leik of the Children's Attorney Project) said that she did not want to see me.

Eight months after the adoption, Karen died. I understand that it was sudden and unexpected. Next to the caseworker, who also died abruptly, Karen was the person who I most had a grudge against. I was more angry with her than with my ex-wife and her mother, whose disease I understood. Karen and I had had a good relationship for four years, and she had no reason to turn against me the way she did.

What happened was a classic case of social hysteria, not unlike the witchhunts of Salem. It happened, in this case, that I was the witch.

My wife had a lifelong illness called Borderline Personality Disorder, which had been brewing in our marriage for years but that was invisible outside our household. My wife's acute psychosis began in Oct. 2003 and took the form of extreme and unstable paranoia. She thought I was having multiple affairs, was controlling her computer, had planted video cameras and listening devices throughout the house, was stealing money from her and was trying to abduct Patricia and take her out of the country. (She also discovered that I was writing a secret philosophy website, which was actually true.)

My wife was small, and I was almost twice her size, but it was domestic abuse, and I was the victim. She screamed at me and threw things at me for no clear reason. Her charges against me changed every day. Many times, she would order me out of the house and would start smashing things if I didn't go, but at the same time she would block my way and prevent me from leaving. She abused me by screaming at me about how I was abusing her. She would scream at me openly in the street in front of our house, and when I escaped to the library to try to get some work done, she hunted me down and screamed at me there (to the distress of the library patrons and staff). She left hundreds of angry messages on my voicemail (samples) until I started doing the caseworker thing and let my voicemail fill up. After mid-October 2003, living in the house was impossible, and I started sleeping in my car in the desert.

Legally, this was my house and my foster daughter as much as hers, but when I was away from the house, my wife changed the door locks and barricaded the windows with furniture to keep me out. Every window was covered with paper so I couldn't see inside. Any attempt by me to come into the house and get the things I needed for my business was seen by her as a break-in. For weeks that turned into months, my wife lived in a state of siege in our fortified home, fearfully protecting herself and Patricia from my alleged intrusions.

The police were called on several occasions, but they could do nothing. My wife didn't meet the criteria for involuntary commitment, and her angry charges against me were enough to confound any visitor. There was absolutely no help for me anywhere. I came up with clever ways to conduct my "internet home business" outside of the home, using only the limited internet access I could get at the public library, but it was a desperate battle. My wife spent her time on deluded business ventures that made very little money, and she distrusted me on everything. Our finances deteriorated. I slept in the desert and continued to do my best to support the family.

Patricia was still the state's foster child, but Shari Sanchez was absolutely uncontactable during this time. She visited our home home only 2-3 times a year and could rarely be reached in the interim. If you managed to leave a message on her voicemail she would never return it. (There were medical tests that we could never do for Patricia simply because we could never get the required signature from Ms. Sanchez. After months of trying, I decided that the tests—for certain birth defects—weren't essential enough to fight for.)

Finally, in November 2003, I wrote a brief letter to Ms. Sanchez and hand-delivered it to her at her office. (Behind a glass window, I saw the receptionist put it her hands, and without looking at it or asking what it contained, Ms. Sanchez asked me of I wanted a photocopy.) The letter said, in essence: "My wife has gone crazy and has barricaded herself in our home with our foster child. Please take the child away temporarily so we can work this out, and please order us into counseling."

There was no response whatsoever from the caseworker, and certainly no phone calls or home visit. Ms. Sanchez didn't visit the home until two months later, mid-January 2004. She arrived when I wasn't there, listened to my wife's paranoid charges, took the child away and declined thereafter to talk to me in any form.

Karen and her husband could have been a voice of reason in this crisis, but it didn't turn out that way. Instead, they only contributed to the hysteria and the torture of my child. They were Mormons, you see—which has a direct bearing on the story.

My wife came from the same dysfunctional, drug-infested family that produced Patricia's birth mother, a life-long meth addict. My wife and her mother were the only members of the family who were not involved with drugs. When my wife had her breakdown (which I believe was not drug related, although I am not positive), I turned to my mother-in-law for help. She was sympathetic at first and recognized that my wife was acting irrationally. Her sympathy didn't last long, however. My mother-in-law has only a sixth-grade education and was sexually abused herself as a child. I would describe her as easily manipulated. My wife had better access to her mother than I did and was able to persuade her of her point of view: that I was having affairs, planting video cameras, trying to abduct the child, etc. Soon my mother-in-law stopped talking to me and hung up on me every time I called. Now there were two hysterical people making paranoid claims about me.

My mother-in-law happened to go to the same Mormon church as the N-----s. Frank N----- was a bishop and my mother-in-law's new husband, a well-meaning but very passive man, was a former bishop. My mother-in-law apparently told the N-----s about my abusive behavior, and they accepted the claims at face value. By the time Shari Sanchez finally came around for her semi-annual home visits (which, by law, are supposed to happen every month), she heard the story of my violence not only from my wife but from a half-dozen other parties who were utterly convinced of my abusiveness but didn't actually witness it or investigate it themselves.

"We're going to trust the state on this one," said Frank N-----.

The N-----s were not openly dysfunctional the way my wife's family was. In the subsequent months, with Patricia in their home, they must have recognized that things were not as simple as the first seemed to be. Patricia was a serious discipline problem—as she should have been given the way she was betrayed by everyone around her. My wife, if she truly was being abused by me, was not taking the rational steps she should have been to escape from my abuse. (My wife, in fact, looked like hell, and had dropped from 110 pound down to 80, while she remained dependent on me economically.) Evidently, the N-----s responded to the pressure and confusion by rejecting the child and returning her to the care and custody of the state. This was like sending her back to the dog pound. About a year later, with the dog pound taking very poor care of her, the N----- took Patricia back into their home, but then rejected her yet again.

The N-----'s adoption of Patricia's younger sister eventually went through, but it is a moot point now, since Karen is dead. With her have gone my dreams of revenge. I hoped to someday make her see the damage she caused. When my wife started making fantastic claims about me—which she and Frank had absolutely no evidence for in four years of prior contact with me—they could have talked to me to hear my side, but they didn't. It was sufficient to them that someone in their church had told them something. My child and my whole family where unnecessarily damaged and traumatized not just by my wife's illness and the crass indifference of the state but by the refusal of all the other parties to process their own evidence and make their own decisions.

Now that Karen is gone, Frank has been forced to raise his children alone. I don't know what to say about this except that I understand what he must be going through. It isn't much different than the hell I went through after he declined to talk to me.

"We're going to trust the state on this one."

I may have forgiven his wife, but Frank and I still have a long way to go.

Initially, I became a "court observer" to try to gain some attention for my own case. This effort was almost entirely unsuccessful, except that it may have accelerated Patricia's final adoption. I became friendly with the previous Director of Family Services, Susan Klein-Rothschild, but when I asked her to intervene in my case, she simply bumped it down to the existing caseworkers and supervisor who had mishandled the case. The only thing talking to the director accomplished was that it forced the new caseworker, Helene Pierce, to respond to my written request to see the child. (The caseworker denied my request, based on the assertions of the CAP attorney, but I don't think she would have responded at all had the director not prompted her to.) I later wrote a report on the case (my second) and sent it to the director, who acknowledged receiving it but didn't respond in any other way.

By the way, Helene Pierce has since retired and as far as I know hasn't yet died (suddenly, without warning). The supervisor of both Shari Sanchez and Helene Pierce is very much alive and is still a supervisor for DFS. She is Beth Ann Nelson.

On May 6, 2006, the DFS director Susan Klein-Rothschild abruptly resigned and her replacement was named the very same day. As one can imagine from such a rapid changeover, there was skulduggery involved. Readers of this website know that I later opposed to the new director, Thomas Morton, and the manner of his selection. Although he certainly had knowledge and background in child welfare, the question was his leadership ability. On my own, I conducted an investigation of Mr. Morton's background, the kind that I thought the county itself should have conducted before it hired him. The investigation extended for many pages and I continued to add to it for several months after he started work.

During this time, a DFS manager, at her own initiative, looked at the file on Patricia's case—perhaps trying to figure out what was motivating Mr. Campbell. She sent me an email apologizing on behalf of the agency for not giving me "due process." Upon hearing about this, Mr. Morton reprimanded the manager, and the apology was withdrawn. (I have a copy of the reprimand.) Shortly thereafter, the manager was fired by Mr. Morton without explanation. (Her name is Renee Swain, and she has since found a higher-paying and more prestigious job in Southern California.)

At a certain point, however, I decided that opposition to the director was unproductive, since county management was determined to give him a chance. I, too, decided to give him a chance.

On Oct. 20, 2006, I wrote Mr. Morton a letter asking him to look into Patricia's case. While acknowledging that DFS no longer has control over the child, I asked for two things: (1) an informal introduction to the adoptive parents, who have never met me, and (2) a copy (for myself) of my own written psychological evaluation, as ordered by the court in 2005. I did not ask specifically to see the child, as I understood that this was no longer within the director's power to grant. I did know, however, that the parents are still receiving a monthly subsidy for the child, and that therefore the case was still "open."

The first request seemed reasonable to me on these grounds: Even if a child has been adopted, DFS has an obligation to give the new parents complete information about the child's background. For example, if the child had a serious medical condition which DFS failed to disclose at the time of adoption, DFS would have a moral obligation to contact the parents to tell them about it. In this case, we have a serious psychological condition that could be every bit as damaging as a medical one in the long term. It still remains at the discretion of the parents to talk with me, but DFS has the obligation to correct any misleading or incomplete information it gave the parents initially.

There is no controversy at all about the second item. This is a psychological evaluation of me alone, no different than a medical exam, and it makes no reference at all to the underlying case. If I have a mental illness that needs treatment, I certainly have a right to know about it. (I previously contacted the psychologist who conducted the test, but she said that DFS was the legal custodian of the records, so only it could release them to me.)

My aim in requesting the psychological evaluation is to determine my own sanity. Throughout the Patricia case and my opposition to Mr. Morton, it has been repeatedly stated by a number of parties (including Mr. Morton) that I am unstable and "crazy." Well, the psych eval ought to tell us that, and I intend to put it on the web regardless of what it may contain.

The director promptly sent me two letters acknowledging my two requests and saying that he was looking into them. I then met with Mr. Morton at his office a couple of weeks later. We seemed to bury the hatchet (and not in each other's skulls). I emphasized that I wanted a quiet and informal resolution to the Patricia matter. I said that all that I wanted was someone from DFS to look at the case, then contact the new parents and say, "We didn't tell you the whole story."

After our meeting, I removed the Morton investigation from my website.

Now, two and a half months have gone by and nothing has happened. Last week, I saw Mr. Morton in a hallway, and he said he waiting to hear back from legal counsel. Apparently, he can't take any action on my two requests until lawyers tell him it is okay.

Two weeks ago, I decided to try to sidestep the blockage by putting together a packet for the new parents. This consisted of a letter, the Dec. 05 article about me from the Las Vegas Sun and about 50 of my best photos of Patricia (selected from the new photo album). I sent the packet to a DFS manager with the request that it be forwarded to the new parents.

I tried this once before in late 2005 but got no reply (and I am not even certain that the caseworker forwarded the package). The trouble with writing a letter is that I know almost nothing about the new parents and I don't know what issues I am trying to address. All the information the parents have about me came from Karen N-----, my wife's mother, the caseworkers and the CAP attorney, so I am obviously considered an abuser. No matter what my literary abilities may be, it may be impossible for me to overcome that preconception with written words or pretty photos alone. The parents probably need some sort of hint from DFS that the original information was inaccurate.

Nearly all of the mishandling of the Patricia case took place before Mr. Morton's arrival, so it can't be blamed on him. At the same time, history has shown that I can become fairly annoying if ignored. In my latest newsletter, I have come to bat for the agency, trying to protect it from unnecessary meddling by the state. You would think that it would be in Mr. Morton's best interests to find a creative solution to the Patricia matter. I understand his desire to study the problem and consult with lawyers, which is his management style, but how long does he have to do it?

I don't think Mr. Morton would want me protesting again that he lacks leadership ability.


      Note that she was a photographer. Ironic, eh? We had little in common in this regard, however, since my photos were usually candid and hers were usually posed.

      That's about all you can say about her: "She was a county government social worker 3 M.S.W." We could also add: "Gave a number of lackluster years to child welfare and was never fired."

Here are two photos from the new album that are relevant to the essay above...

This is me, my then mother-in-law and her new husband. This photo was taken in the Mormon church that both they and the N-----s attended. (Karen N----- tried to get my wife and I to join the church but she was unsuccessful. Would they have talked to me if I was a member of their church?)

Taken at the DFS Christmas party for foster families in December 2002. Karen N----- is on the left. My head is the non-blue one and Patricia is below me. The other girl is Patricia's sister, living with the N-----s and eventually adopted by them.

UPDATE 9/21/09: In the spirit of forgiveness, I have removed the family's last name from this page. -- GC

Reader Comments

“An inquiry of this case should be made public should DFS not respond, and quickly.” —Joe 1/21/07 (rating=4)

“Patricia's case more than tugs at my heart, it also challenges my thinking. Although she has been through such hardship during her experience in "the system", she appears to have also been the recipient of great love from that same "system" in the form of a foster dad. How I personally wish that the system were full of such loving people. But after reading the 1/21/07 essay, it isn't enough to be "loving", perhaps even more important is to be "responsible' - not in the societal sense of going to work every day (although that's pretty necessary in most cases), but to take responsiblity for our responses to what life deals us. If someday in the future Patricia finds this website, what an awesome gift she will receive. Few people will ever know how loved they are and what sacrifices have been made on their behalf. I hope that she can grow into a young woman who can look at her history and feel grateful for it all and rise above being a victime of a tragic situation. She has a good example to do so.” —psmflowerlady 1/22/07 (rating=4) ... Response from Webmaster: I have no doubt that Patricia will find this website eventually. My concern is that she will be so changed in the meantime that she won't really be able to process it. In her life, this is a huge, life-changing trauma, and you can't turn up 10 or 15 years later and just erase it.

“Are you sure that Shari Sanchez is dead...alot of Social Workers have "died" in order to clear thier "names" for having done wrong while doing social work. ... Has your "forgiveness" been justified just because this "person" has died?” — 5/1/08 (rating=2) ... Response from Webmaster: I'm quite sure. One can't be incompetent all ones life then pull off a competent death hoax.

“Its not true that Karen did not love Patricia we all loved her you were never there to see the love we had but Patricia was never happy so Karen wanted her to be and all I know is that all she was was kind to her and gave all that she needed and wanted when Patricia grows up ask her because Karen was an amiazing women that would try her hardest to please all her kids..and she may be gone now but she touched manny peoples life and she has changed mine by making me a better person and I hope eveyone out there that knows her isn't scared to agree because she was an awesome and loved lady that Patricia loved also. Just because people make mistakes dont mean there horrible people and her father made mistakes and learned and Karen didn't have the need to feel feelings of revenge agaisnt him for what happend to Patricia because she knew people were human..I love you Patricia” —Lvjessefan 9/26/08 (rating=0) ... Response from Webmaster: Oh, wow! I never expected this! You should contact me. I've had a lot of bitterness, but I've gotten over it. -- Glenn

Ratings so far: 4 4 2 0 5 0 4 (Average=2.7)

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