|Posted:||May 4, 2021 01:45 PM|
|From:||Representative Perry S. Warren and Rep. Tina M. Davis|
|To:||All House members|
|In the summer of 2018, 7-year-old Kayden Mancuso was murdered at the hands of her biological father, Jeffrey Mancuso, during a court-ordered visit. Kayden was a student at Edgewood Elementary School in Lower Makefield Township, Bucks County.
During the custody determination, the court ordered a psychological evaluation, which stated Jeffrey Mancuso had suicidal thoughts, depression, and showed violent tendencies. This was ignored when Mancuso was granted unsupervised visits with Kayden, “contingent” on him entering mental health treatment which he did not attend. His previous assault convictions and the three-year protection from abuse order against him were not deemed relevant or to pose enough of a risk to Kaden when the decision was made to allow unsupervised visitation. Our court system and current state law failed to ensure the health and safety of Kayden Mancuso, and for that reason, she became the 647th child of a divorced or separated couple to be murdered by a parent since 2008.
What happened to Kayden is a heartbreaking tragedy, but, unfortunately, not unique. When courts fail to read the signs of domestic abuse and award custody of a child or visitation rights to an abuser the consequences can be dire. A review of 4,000 domestic court cases show that the abuser wins custody or unsupervised visitation 81-percent of the time.
Children need the law to protect their interests in custody proceedings, especially those cases in which there are allegations of domestic violence or child sexual abuse. Far too often, courts overlook signs of abuse and rely on factors in the custody law which were designed to make parents play fair not to protect abused children, to make decisions that jeopardize a child's life.
For these reasons we intend to introduce Kayden’s Law. This legislation will:
· Strengthen the current factors that judges must consider in making custody and visitation decisions, to make it clear that the most important issue is the health and safety of the child;
· Ensure that if there is a finding by the court of a history of abuse or an ongoing risk of abuse, that the court must consider including safety conditions and restrictions necessary to protect the child in any custody order; and
· Encourage the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to implement an annual educational and training program for judges and relevant court personnel on child abuse, adverse childhood experiences, domestic violence, and its impact on children.
We must establish a procedure for handling custody proceedings that ensures better protection of our children. Please join us in co-sponsoring this important legislation.