| Bucks County Courier Times
It has been more than two years since Kayden Mansuco was killed by her father during an unattended judicial visit.
The death of 7-year-old Lower Makefield on Aug. 6, 2018 could have been prevented if the court system had worked in favor of child safety, said her mother Kathryn Sherlock, who is driving legislation to revise state custody laws.
“The reason we did this is because we didn’t want this to happen to any other child again, and here we are two years later and now there are 101 children on that list,” she said during a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday. “That doesn’t suit me and many people.
“Children are our number one priority. Your safety should be our number one priority.”
Her struggle took a step forward on Tuesday when the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a Senate bill named in honor of her daughter to make it clear to the courts that the child’s health, welfare and safety when setting custody issues stand above all other considerations.
The legislation included a bulk amendment that served as the new language for the bill that was first introduced last year. Once approved, the bill goes to the Senate for a vote.
In the House of Representatives, Tina Davis D-141 from Bristol Township and Perry Warren D-31 from Newtown introduced House Bill 1587.
Kayden’s death was one of 99 “yellow” cases in which a child is murdered by a parent during unsupervised visits after being ordered by a court, when there are indications that one parent is dangerous to the child.
Jeffrey Mancuso, Kayden’s father, had a documented history of violent and unpredictable behavior despite no allegations of abuse against the Edgewood Elementary School student. A psychological examination ordered by the court found him to have major depressive disorder, moderate anxiety, narcissistic and antisocial personality traits.
It recommended that the court make Mancuso “unattended” visits “dependent” on his psychiatric treatment, but the assigned judge did not require it in his final custody decision, issued three months before Kayden’s murder.
“When you have kids, the number one thing you always want is a healthy baby. A healthy, safe child,” Sherlock said. “In my situation, I did. I had a beautiful, healthy 7-year-old and unfortunately … nobody helped me, nobody believed me. Nobody did anything other than cost me money and take away my privileges to protect my own child. ” and in the end she died. “
Sherlock said Mancuso’s parental rights replaced Kayden’s right to life. “Kayden’s father shouldn’t have adopted a dog because of his violent history, but people were fine under our law.”
“Every judge, candidate, attorney, court clerk I’ve spoken to has said the same thing: The best interest in the child comes first. But they don’t practice it,” she said.
Under Senate Bill 868 or Kayden Act, any custody decision would include safety conditions and restrictions necessary to protect a child if a court found a persistent risk or history of abuse.
Currently, Pennsylvania requires Common Pleas judges to consider 16 factors when considering custody or visiting and to explain decisions about them in final orders. Past violent and criminal acts involving a parent are among the factors that judges must weigh. However, the law regards these factors as the same as other factors such as distance between parents’ homes or availability of an extended family.
Senator Steve Santarsiero’s bill would strengthen the factors judges consider when deciding on custody decisions and highlight which party would ensure the child’s health and safety. It would also change the law in force to include weighted factors that affect the child’s health and safety.
The proposal would require courts to take into account criminal convictions, complaints, child abuse and participation in protection services, as well as custody factors. If the court has found abuse of the child or household member in the past, a judge may consider security restrictions or safeguards, including:
professionally or unprofessionally supervised custody, restrictions on the time of day or number of hours of custody, appointment of a qualified professional counselor, restrictions on custody and / or other safety conditions, restrictions or safeguards necessary to ensure the health and safety of the child.
Under the law, when hearing a custody dispute, courts could consider an additional criminal conviction. These include:
simple attack, reckless endangerment of another person, choking, human trafficking, involuntary bondage, tutelage of a victim of sexual bondage, cruelty to animals, aggravated cruelty to animals, animal fighting and possession of animal fighting equipment.
The bill would also encourage the state’s Supreme Court to conduct an annual education and training program for judges and relevant court staff on child abuse, negative childhood experiences, domestic violence and its effects on children.
After Sherlock and other supporters testified before a Senate Democratic Politics committee in Lower Makefield last October, Santarseiro said he worked with Kayden’s family and supporters from across the state to “tweak the language of the bill.”
“The bill, voted positively by the committee today, is feedback from experts who work every day in our family justice system to ensure that no family experiences the same horror as Kayden’s family,” said Santarsiero of Lower Makefield.
After Monday’s hearing, Davis and Warren welcomed the vote, calling it a “great first step in protecting children by making sure the courts examine the warning signs of abuse and neglect in custody cases”.
“My colleagues and I will fight to move this legislation forward and turn it into law that will save lives and prevent another Kayden Mancuso tragedy,” Davis said in a statement.
Sherlock said she was contacted by parents around the world who had custody disputes.
“Everyone said, ‘I don’t want my kid to be the next Kayden.’ Harsh words to hear, but unfortunately I have no advice to give them, “she said. “What I did in court didn’t work for me.
“I buried a lovely 7 year old after spending thousands and thousands of dollars on a system I believed in … no parent should have to bury their child, especially if it could have been so easily prevented.”
Kayden’s Korner, a nonprofit founded in honor of Kayden Mansuco and committed to giving children a voice in domestic law, will be held on October 15th at Makefield Highlands Golf Club, 1418 Woodside Road in Lower Makefield, Jan. Organize Kayden’s Korner Golf Outing.
Registration begins at 9:00 a.m. with a shotgun starting at 10:15 a.m. The event includes a four-person scramble golf tournament, continental breakfast, packed lunch, sweepstakes and awards. Admission ranges from $ 125 to $ 500. More information can be found at https://bit.ly/33Q5oN9.
This article originally appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times: Kayden’s Bill Goes to the Full Senate