Sacramento, Calif. - By Robert J Hansen
Two Santa Cruz children were physically removed from their aunt's home by “transporters” and taken to a reunification camp by court order last Thursday, according to a video found on social media.
In the video, which can be seen here, the children are seen crying and pleading with the three transporters to not take them to the reunification camp while friends and family can only stand and watch.
Reunification camps are a controversial method in which children are removed from their preferred parent or safe parent, despite their allegations of abuse or mistreatment directed towards the other parent.
The reunification camp Maya and Sebastian have been taken to is run by Dr. Lynn Steinberg and is located in Los Angeles.
Steinberg’s website advertises that she works with families, couples, groups and individuals and specializes in working with alienated parents and alienated children.
Dr. Steinberg provides a four-day therapeutic intervention program which she claims has a 100 percent success rate and provides expert testimony on parental alienation in the courts.
After their parents divorced a few years ago, Maya Laing, 15, and Sebastian Laing, 11, live with their father and stepmother who are their preferred parents.
Maya and Sebastian’s father nor family attorney could be reached for comment.
About a year ago, Maya began to voice claims of abuse by her mother and stopped visiting her.
“For the past year, me and my brother have been trying to escape our mother, our abuser,” Maya said via Instagram. “Because of abusive behavior towards us.”
Abusers often lodge “parental alienation” or “alienation” claims against a safe parent as a legal strategy to cast doubt on their credibility and valid claims of abuse are labeled as “alienation” by the abusive parent.
Once a court finds a claim of "alienation,” the children are removed from their safe parent and forced to reunite with their alleged abusive parent via a reunification camp.
Santa Cruz family court Judge Rebecca Connolly appointed reunification therapist Regina Marshal to Maya and Sebastian’s case who then had them removed and placed in an L.A. reunification camp based on claims of their father “alienating” them from their mother.
Tina Swithin, the founder of One Mom’s Battle, has been a family court advocate for the past ten years and was tagged on social media by Maya in the days leading up to being taken to reunification.
“While I have spent many years hearing tragic stories about reunification therapy and reunification camps, nothing could have prepared me for what I witnessed in that video,” Swithin said. “Had any other adult treated a child this way, they would be behind bars on felony child abuse charges.”
Marshal, who was the first person Maya and Sebastian told about their mother’s abuse, told the children that they were “lying” and were “crazy.’ Marshal immediately sent the children back to their mother’s home, according to Maya.
Dr. Steinberg even posted on Facebook, posing as Sebastian saying he was not in any harm and how nice the transporters were.
Maya and Sebastian’s story is only one within the family court system where reunification is commonplace.
According to a study from George Washington University Law School, family courts only believed mothers’ child abuse allegations less than one-third of the time. They believed only 1 in 49 cases of child sexual abuse when the accused father crossclaimed that the mother was alienating. Approximately one-third of mothers alleging a father’s abuse lose custody; when the father crossclaims alienation, that increases to one-half.
The study provides two concrete proposals.
The first is that abuse allegations should be assessed upfront and separately, with parental alienation only considered if abuse is ruled out.
The other, state law must legislate for indeterminacy, and avoid defaulting to falsity where the truth of an abuse allegation is uncertain.
Courts must instead protect children from risk even when it is uncertain while proceeding with caution to both maximize the potential for relationship repair and ensure child safety, according to the study.
Swithin is organizing a vigil at Lighthouse Field State Beach in remembrance of Maya and Sebastian this Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
A protest is also planned for Friday, October 28, at 8:00 a.m. on the steps of the Watsonville Courthouse in Santa Cruz County.
“Regardless of who is right or wrong this is not the answer,” Swithin said.