Supervisors Push to Eliminate Family Court Reunification Programs

by Robert J. Hansen

Santa Cruz, CA -After public outcry for two children forcibly removed from their grandmother’s home last month, The Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors passed a directive for the Department of Human Services to work with the County Counsel to determine potential options to regulate the actions of private youth transport companies who are hired to remove children from their home.

Maya and Sebastian Laing were forcibly removed from their grandmother’s home on October 20, by such a company, Assisted Interventions, Inc., which carries out court orders to move children in contentious custody disputes.

“I think the state can do a better job of investigating, overseeing, regulating if not eliminating child reunification camps which are clearly exploiting a loophole right now in our child welfare code,” Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, who recommended the directive said.

Santa Cruz Supervisor Ryan Coonerty speaking about regulations for reunification programs at the BOS meeting on Tuesday, November 15, 2022.(Screenshot by Robert J Hansen)

The Board also directed Chair Manu Koenig to write to Governor Gavin Newsom and the State Legislature urging them to establish standards for private transport companies as well as create oversight and possibly eliminate the use of reunification camps.

Caroline Farrell, a family therapist, spoke in support of the inquiry into private transportation companies and reunification programs.

“I have watched the video of Maya and Sebastian Laing being forcefully and brutally taken from their grandmother’s home,” Farrel said. “It is my opinion that what we have witnessed in this video is child abuse.”

Farrell questioned how many other children have been traumatized by decisions made by those who are charged with protecting children.

Assisted Interventions, by order of Superior Court Judge Rebecca Connolly, took the Santa Cruz children to Los Angeles-based psychologist Dr. Lynn Steinberg.

Neither Dr. Steinberg nor Assisted Interventions could be reached for comment after multiple attempts to reach them.

Maya and Sebastian have not been heard from since.

A spokesperson for MetooMoms said the directive does not address those most responsible for children being violently removed from their homes, family court judges.

“The only responsible parties are the judges who make these orders,” the spokesperson said. “The transporters, quack therapists, police and abusive parents have zero power without a judge’s order.”

The family court watchdog and whistleblower group said this is not progress, rather it is a distraction from the real problem and it accomplishes nothing to return Maya and Sebastian.

“Judge Connelly … could return them today,” MetooMoms said.

Coonerty said Santa Cruz county does not have a lot of jurisdiction but it can and will look at regulating private transportation companies to follow the same “hand-off” practices as Child Welfare Services.

A bill that would have banned family courts’ use of reunification programs in California, SB 616, stalled in the Assembly Judiciary Committee last August.

Also known as Piqui’s Law, it sought to expand domestic violence and child abuse educational requirements for judges, mediators, child custody recommending counselors and evaluators involved in domestic violence and child custody proceedings.

Human Services and the Counsel are to return on December 13, 2022, or sooner if feasible, to advise the Board on its available options.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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