A bill known as Piqui’s Law would prohibit court-ordered family reunification therapy or “camps” as part of a child custody or visitation rights proceeding, that is predicated on cutting off a child from a parent with whom the child is attached, is moving through the legislature.
Authored by Senator Susan Rubio, the intent of SB 331 is to increase the priority given to child custody court proceedings affecting the custody and care of children, excluding child protective, abuse, or neglect proceedings and juvenile justice proceedings.
Scientifically unproven, reunification therapy is a controversial method in which children are removed from their preferred parent or safe parent, often used as a tactic to deflect allegations of abuse or mistreatment directed towards the other parent and cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Abusive parents will 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.
Two Santa Cruz children, Maya and Sebastian Laing, were physically removed from their aunt's home by “transporters” and taken to a reunification camp by court order last October, according to a video found on social media.
They still have not been returned to their father.
Former Santa Cruz Mayor Sonja Brunner and then-Supervisor Ryan Coonerty held a press conference urging the State to establish standards for private transport companies as well as create oversight and possibly eliminate the use of reunification camps.
“Mayor Brunner and I, like the rest of the community, were shocked and horrified, watching the video of Maya and Sebastian Laing, being ripped out of their grandmother’s home by a private transportation company linked to a for-profit reunification center in Los Angeles,” Connery said while standing in front of a group of friends and family.
Host of The HourGlass podcast, David Glass who is a family law attorney and holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, said reunification is not helpful for families.
“It’s a last-ditch effort by the family court to try and save a situation that’s probably gone too far astray,” Glass said.
Glass said it doesn’t make sense to attempt to change an estranged child’s mind about a parent while going through a divorce, whether the reason that child is estranged is valid or not.
“It’s (parental alienation) such a rarity that unfortunately, the court system jumped on this idea in the 90s even though there was no evidence supporting it,” Glass said.
Piqui’s Law would provide that a person is qualified to testify as an expert in a child custody proceeding in which a parent has been alleged to have committed domestic violence or child abuse, as specified if the person shows by any otherwise admissible evidence that the person has sufficient special knowledge, training or education relating to the subject of the person’s testimony.
Approximately 1 in 15 children in the United States is exposed to domestic violence each year, according to the bill.
Most child abuse in America is perpetrated in the family and by a parent and a child’s risk of abuse increases after a perpetrator of intimate partner violence separates from a domestic partner, even when the perpetrator has not previously directly abused the child, the bill said.
This bill would require a family law judge assigned to a case involving child custody proceedings to complete a 25-hour orientation session and a minimum of 20 hours of ongoing training to be completed every three years thereafter.
Children subjected to these abusive programs report being denied food, being assaulted, being drugged, being shamed, and having no privacy as transport agents follow them into bathroom stalls, according to the Center for Judicial Excellence (CJE).
Ally Toyos was 16, she and her younger sister were taken from their mother and flown to Montana where they were subjected to reunification therapy in a hotel for four days by the organization, Family Bridges.
“My sister and I were kidnapped from a courthouse in Johnson County Kansas and transported to a remote city in Montana,” Cable said.
Toyos, Youth Initiative Founder for the CJE, said she and her sister were “held captive” in a hotel and threatened into a relationship with their abusive father through Family Bridges.
The Second Appellate District Court reversed an order, in favor of the mother, that would have sent two children to Family Bridge’s 90-day reunification program last January.