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 #12, 8/27/2006

The Trauma of the Family Court Guy

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

Behind the Family Court Guy is an unspeakable trauma. It almost seems like a dream at this point, and even I have difficulty believing that it actually happened.

I may seem strong at the moment. I have many contacts in the court system, in the press and in child welfare. I know how to get attention for any case that concerns me.

This wasn't the situation 2-1/2 years ago, when I was a nobody and couldn't even get a caseworker to return a single phone call.

I could only stand by helplessly while the child I loved and who I had raised for most of her life was tortured by a system that did not care about her.

I now have a deep personal understanding of the child welfare system and exactly how it can go wrong, because I personally experienced the worse of it. With only slight exaggeration, I call it my own personal Holocaust.

In 1998, my wife and I took a newborn baby into our home, the daughter of a drug-addicted relative of my wife. I was her primary caregiver, and I raised her as my own daughter. I was her only true "Daddy," and the dream was always adoption.

We experienced the trauma of seeing our daughter reunited with her deeply dysfunctional birth mother not once but twice. Every time the case was closed by the state, the mother quickly relapsed into drug abuse. We kept in contact with the mother, so we knew when she was doing drugs, but it was impossible to get CPS to pay any attention. To them, we were only jealous former foster parents who were trying to sabotage the mother. Finally, others reported the mother's drug use, and the daughter and her siblings were taken away.

Although the child remained in our custody and the mother's rights were eventually terminated, the case dragged on for months, then years. We wanted desperately to adopt, but by the time the child was nearly six, it still hadn't happened.

Our caseworker, Shari Sanchez, was indifferent at best. She rarely visited us (2-3 times a year at most) and was nearly impossible to contact in the interim. (She never answered her phone directly, and most messages left on voicemail got no reply.) If there were ever any problems, such as medical issues, we were completely alone and had to resolve them on our own.

Today, I would know what to do to light a fire under the caseworker, but back then it seemed we had no options. The situation seemed harmless anyway: The child was already living with us as our daughter. We were receiving a monthly subsidy and free medical care for her, which we didn't mind, so whether or not the child was adopted didn't seem important.

Then my marriage collapsed. It didn't just fail as a single event. It collapsed in a way that trapped me in the worst sort of prison imaginable for 2-1/2 years. It was an utterly devastating and life-changing experience.

My wife went crazy. "Crazy", of course, is shorthand for a very complex phenomenon. The technical term is Borderline Personality Disorder, a difficult-to-describe illness that seems to defy logic and that you have to experience to believe. I have always been well-read in psychology, but even I wasn't prepared for it.

    9/1/06: Of course, my now ex-wife strongly denies this claim, and is distressed to find it here. She was never "crazy," she says. She was just responding as anyone else would to stresses that I put her under. Indeed, she has never been professionally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, only Depression and possibly Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

    All of the following should be be regarded as my opinion and my personal perception of events, which could be wrong. The reader must keep in mind that my ex-wife has a different view.

In Fall of 2003, my wife became deeply paranoid, and began accusing me of things I didn't do: planting cameras and listening devices in our home, having secret affairs, stealing money from her, trying to abduct our daughter and take her out of the country. The charges were constantly changing and were often inconsistent with the charges made only the day before. I must have been a Superman to do all the bad things she accused me of.

The interesting thing about each thing my wife accused me of is that it could be true, at least if you listened only to the evidence she presented and ignored the other charges. As might be expected, her relatives believed everything she told them about me, while my relatives believed me. The trouble was, mine were in Boston and hers were here in Las Vegas. This was the same troubled family that produced the drug-addicted birth mother, with extensive multi-generational substance abuse, sexual abuse and domestic violence. No one in any branch of the family had ever graduated from high school in the normal course. My own background was quite the opposite—almost to an alien degree—and as the stresses increased, communication between the two worlds became more and more tenuous.

My wife's relatives, with limited education, were unable to process the concept of mental illness. Whatever my wife told them about me, no matter how bizarre, they apparently believed, without any attempt at verification. Faced with the stress caused by my wife's violent accusations, her family pulled together against this perceived outside threat—me.

In October 2003, my wife kicked me out of our jointly-owned house. Although I had a legal right to be there, it was impossible to stay for long, since I would be continuously harassed for my alleged crimes whenever I showed up. After I moved out, she really got paranoid. She barricaded all the doors and windows with furniture, and she held our foster child inside as a virtual prisoner, supposedly to protect her from me. It was a bizarre and scary scene, and there was virtually no one I could go to for help. My wife refused all counseling or medical treatment—since she saw the problem as me, not her—but she didn't meet the criteria to be involuntarily hospitalized.

The caseworker, of course, remained uncontactable, and when I finally did get through to her, she was indifferent and non-responsive. I eventually requested in writing that the child be temporarily removed from our home because of my wife's worsening mental state. I hand-delivered the letter to the caseworker, who showed no reaction. When this letter got no response for several days, and my wife's condition temporarily improved, I sent another letter withdrawing the request. After years of dealing with Shari Sanchez, I knew that she was clueless about psychology and incapable of intelligent action and would only make matter worse.

The situation was in a stalemate for three months—mid-October 2003 through mid-January 2004—with my wife barricaded in the house most of that time along with our foster child. Sleeping in the desert, I agonized over what to do and dreaded what would happen when the caseworker eventually arrived. The caseworker, who was legally required to visit every month, didn't contact us even once during this time, even after my letters in November, and of course she didn't return phone calls.

My wife's mother, who was a foster parent of a brother of our child, believed her daughter without question and refused to talk to me. She conveyed news of my abusiveness to a third set of foster parents who had another sister and who happened to go the same church. Thus, by the time the caseworker bothered to visit, there were a half-dozen "witnesses" to my supposed abuse, none of whom actually saw it.

When the caseworker finally arrived at our house in January 2004, when I was not present, she listened to my wife's paranoid claims, agreed that I was abusive and took the child away. Although I raised the child for most of her life and was her only emotional father, I have never been allowed to see her since then.

When the child was taken, the caseworker told my wife to tell me that I couldn't see the child until I contacted her. The catch was, there was no way to contact the caseworker. I left messages every day and wrote letters, but no communication was ever returned. (I believe that I also tried to contact the supervisor, but I don't recall the exact outcome, only that it went nowhere.)

As soon as my wife started making her paranoid claims, no one involved in the case, including the caseworker, my wife's relatives and the other foster parents who I had known for years, would talk to me in any form. If I reached anyone on the phone, they would immediately hang up on me. They accepted my wife's claims at face value, even the ones about the cameras and listening devices I supposedly planted in our house. (You would think that someone would at least look for these devices.) I was seen as a criminal—an abductor, an abuser, a manipulator, a burglar and a spy—by dozens of people who I had once thought were friends. They repeated each other's rumors about me, but all of them declined to hear my side.

(I think part of the problem was that I was intelligent, educated, creative, adaptable and completely dedicated to my role as a husband and father. In other words, I was someone beyond their comprehension and therefore dangerous.)

My challenge was not only to contact the caseworker but to counter all of the imaginary charges generated by my wife and apparently taken by the state as true. I finally hired a lawyer, Rebecca Burton, to try to get through to the caseworker. The lawyer went through the chain of command and eventually talked to the caseworker on the phone. The caseworker promised to talk with me, but never did.

The lawyer told me that because I was only a foster parent, I had no legal rights, even to ask for visitation. (An apparent visitation provision in the Nevada Revised Statutes turned out to be illusory, as it did not apply to foster parents.) The state "owned" this child and could do anything it wanted with her. The fact that I had raised her for 5-1/2 years and had at least as strong a bond with her as any biological parent meant nothing under the law.

The child was moved from one thoughtless foster placement to another. Everyone was very careful to make sure that I didn't know where the child was. I was seen as a physical threat to the child, based only on my wife's claims about me.

In the meantime, our family finances were also collapsing. My wife was too unstable to do significant work, and I was the sole supporter of the family, which included three other children from my wife's previous marriages. I felt that I could not simply abandon these children to my wife's mental illness. No matter how badly my wife treated me, I felt that I had to continue supporting my family until I could implement some sort of transition plan.

Because of the high emotional volatility our household, our finances had always been fragile; now they were dire. I ran a home-based business selling books on the internet, but now I could not enter my own home without being attacked. This began the most desperate financial juggling act of my life, where I struggled by every creative means possible to support a family who seemed to hate me in a house I couldn't live in. The nightmare lasted 2-1/2 years and only ended when our home was sold in April 2006. (Now, my ex-wife has moved out of state and appears to be doing well.)

    (That is, until she found this webpage.)

Although no one would talk to me directly about my daughter, stories filtered in to me about how poorly she was doing in foster care. She was rebellious and uncooperative—as she should have been! No one seemed to have a clue about her emotional needs. I would lie awake in the desert worrying about her. Eventually this drew me into the court system, at least as an observer. Even though I had no legal standing, I tried everything I could to get someone to pay attention to her case.

Today, I would have known what to do, but back then I was an indigent and helpless victim of the system. The militant Family Court Guy who you see before you is a reaction to that helplessness.

My daughter, who was now seen as a problem child, was kicked around in thoughtless foster placements for 1-1/2 years. There was a break, however, in early 2005, when her caseworker died.

She just up and died, supposedly of a cerebral hemorrhage. I say that it is because of all the pins I stuck in my voodoo doll of her.

The new caseworker, Helene Pierce, was only slightly more competent but at least returned my phone calls occasionally.

I also met the supervisor of both Shari and Helene. She struck me as a non-entity and a non-presence. Whatever decision was made by her caseworkers, she was going to back it. All of these people seemed only concerned with moving bodies around and avoiding more work and appeared to have no comprehension of the emotional needs of children.

I hired another lawyer, ostensibly on behalf of my wife, who was related by blood to the child and might have a slim chance at having some legal standing. (My relationship with my wife was up and down during during this period. There were times of relative stability when we were able to work together, especially to try to save our child.) The lawyer managed to get a Children's Advocate Attorney (CAP) appointed to the child, which sounded like a victory at first.

The CAP attorney, a full-time Clark County Legal employee named Kevin Leik, also refused to return my phone calls. He did talk briefly to my ex-wife, but mostly he talked to my wife's mother and the other foster parents who had accepted my ex-wife's original stories as true and who had refused to talk to me. These people provided all of the information about the child's background and about me that Mr. Leik needed. He refused to speak with me until I showed up unexpectedly in court, and even then, he never had any interest in hearing my side of past events. He reported to the court that our divorce was "nasty" and that was as deep as he cared to go.

Leik always seemed supremely confident of himself—pompously so—but he appeared to have no intuitive grasp of children. To me, he seemed grossly unqualified for the job, and I wondered how he was chosen.

In June 2005, my daughter was placed with what I was told is a good home. The family wanted to adopt her, and the adoption went through in December 2005. This was almost exactly six months after she was placed with the new family, the legal minimum. (Since adoptions usually take years, I attribute this quick work to my growing position as an activist and the desire of the caseworkers to dispose of the case as quickly as possible.)

In the fall of 2005, when the child was still a ward of the state, I made a formal request to see her. At the time, she was 7, had not seen me in 20 months, and had been filled with who-knows-what nonsense about me. The request was denied. Both the caseworker and the CAP attorney determined that the child did not want to see me, end of story.

I think most people who have talked to me, both now and then, would regard me as intelligent, rational and consciencious, but back then it then it didn't matter. If no one would talk to me, there was no way I could show my intelligence. I ran into brick walls everywhere I turned, and I hardly found a shred of conscience or intelligence anywhere. I had been a dedicated foster parent for 5-1/2 years, but I was still expendable and worthless—no better than an unreformed drug addict whose parental rights has been terminated.

I sensed that the caseworkers (at least these two) had plenty of practice in blowing people off. They just stopped returning phone calls and expected people to go away.

Over time, the experience went from unremitting pain to an almost cosmic mission. It seemed that the worst of all possible experiences were lined up for me, just so I would be pushed to achieve my best. It was a transformative ordeal that stripped away all of my investments and distractions and eventually turned into a fantastic opportunity to do the things I had always wanted to.

I still want to see my former foster daughter again, without disrupting her placement. Custody has never been an issue, only seeing my child again and participating in her transition. I realize that she is just one child of many and that she hasn't seen me in 2-1/2 years, but there is still something special and important in our relationship.

We had a very close bond during our years together. Because of my wife's instabilities, I was both the mom and the dad to her most of the time, through the most critical parts of her development. A child can't be asked to just discard this formative experience with some invented stories that I was abusive. I wasn't. What is she going to do when she finds out the truth?

For her health as well as mine, our relationship need to be "normalized," but I am not sure how to go about it. Since she has been adopted, the state no longer has any control over her. I know nothing about the new parents except that they are still in Nevada. The only information they have received about me is what the caseworkers, CAP attorney and the other foster parents have told them, which is certainly distorted. I have no idea what her emotional situation is or whether I am still considered a threat. I could probably write a letter and ask that it be forwarded, as I have tried once before, but I don't know what charges I am trying to refute.

A few weeks ago, at her own initiative, a manager at DFS retrieved the case file in my child's case. After reviewing it, she sent me an email expressing concern about how my case had been handled, just based on the written record. She apologized on behalf of DFS for the agency not giving me due process.

Later, this official apology was withdrawn, on the orders of the new director of the agency, Thomas Morton. He told the the manager that she had no authority to make such an assessment. (The unofficial apology remains in force, however, and I still take it to heart.)

The manager has since been fired.

Other links for the child, including photos, can be found on the Patricia page.

I was hoping that my ex-wife wouldn't see this page, but she did. On 8/29/06, she responded with three telephone messages (audio file and transcript). An excerpt:

    "If I'm the one that's crazy, Glenn, instead of you, then why did I get to see Patricia while I was in Vegas and you haven't. Fuck you."

Reader Comments

“My heart breaks for this guy, the justice sysem does not recognise the damage a dysfunctional family can do, at least give a child a good role model for a while, something to remember. Nasty people have nasty kids .” — 12/31/08 (rating=5)

“I filed for a divorce, 67 years old. Forced to take out an order to keep her away, because of her violence. Four days later she took out a bogus order on me, claiming that I slapped her. In the family court hearing, I learned what the term, "a preponderance of evidence" means, which is what ever the gender biased court hears from the female it is automatically accepted as truth. The stigma and suffering that I have wrongly suffered is horrible.” —Ron 3/11/09 (rating=5)

“4xXNtf Ezknp vbnwkt vbwvmmhnqm ksbntpw hgqnox tpzc ckadtn vuvdb.” —Olhstrtj 8/12/10 (rating=2)

“USA” —zuxfpdlb 1/25/11 (rating=3)

Ratings so far: 0 5 5 5 5 2 3 (Average=3.5)

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