A Safer Tomorrow for Pennsylvania Children & the Safe Child Act

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Family Court & Custody Crisis: We need family court reform now.

Generally, custody is resolved with minor problems, and while it might not be perfect, parents settle into something that works for the children for the most part. But there is a subset of  cases where there are claims of child abuse during litigation - which represents 2.8% of custody cases, and abuse claims are not believed. This adds up to approximately 7,367 Pennsylvania children each year, and over 58,000 in the U.S. each year.

Parents who abuse their partner have a higher chance of abusing their children. Simply put, when domestic abuse shows up in custody court it turns bad for the victim. And contrary to many opinions domestic abuse does have an adverse affect on children.

According to various and respected empirical research entities, false claims of sexual abuse of children are rare. Statistically, less than 1% of children make false claims of sexual abuse. That research includes, but is not limited to, the Saunder Study - commissioned by the Justice Department, the Leadership Council, Mapping Gender -Shedding Empirical Light on Family Courts’ Treatment of Cases Involving Abuse and Alienation - Dr. Joan Meier and Dr. Sean Dickson; and even the National Association of Juvenile & Family Court Judges has published a manual that, for all intents and purposes, support the findings of the above research. But civil court judges have failed to catch up and apply these findings and initiate solutions.

At the end of the day, if a parent reports domestic abuse and/or child abuse after separating and during custody litigation, they are then accused of alienating their children from the abuser, and lose their children to the abuser as high as 81% of the time.

According to the Center for Judicial Excellence, 22 Pennsylvania children have been murdered since 2009 because of a family court judge ordered them into the contact or custody of their murderer. This was preventable. Why aren't courts preventing it?

 One such case was the murder of three-year-old Kelly Williams, by her father, in April of 2017, York County, PA. After Kelly's mom told the judge that Frank Williams was dangerous, had threatened to kill her family, and she had concerns for Kelly's safety, the judge ordered shared custody and Williams shot Kelly to death and then killed himself during his first custody time. This legal decision lead to Kelly's death. There is no getting around it. 

 In retrospect, it’s easy for any of us to say that Frankie Williams was dangerous; he had abused his partner, and he shouldn’t have had contact with Kelly. But legally, things that cause permanent harm to children, like domestic violence and direct abuse, are given the same weight as lesser things like a lack of health insurance, which was a factor in this case. Kelly's mom didn't have health insurance for Kelly. The death or abuse of any child is tragic, but preventable abuse and deaths even more so. The death of 22 children was preventable, and the trauma that 7,367 Pennsylvania children experience yearly is also preventable.

Pennsylvania is now poised to prevent the abuse, trauma, and deaths of this subset of children who find themselves in the family court system where strangers make decisions for them that are not in the best interest of children. But the larger picture of child abuse is immeasurable, and everyone can agree that greater protection is needed for the entire scope of child abuse.

Protect Children Not Predators!

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