Maya Gives Exclusive Interview While in Hiding after She and Her Brother Sebastian Escape Allegedly Abusive Mother

Then 11-year-old Sebastian (right) being taken against his will by a transport company to a Los Angeles reunification camp by court order on October 20, 2022. (Courtesy of Tina Swithin)

Robert J. Hansen

The Vanguard is only using first names of minor children and their family to protect their identities.

Maya and Sebastian made headlines when they were forcibly taken from their grandmother’s house last October after Santa Cruz Judge Rebecca Connelly ordered them to a reunification camp and then ordered to live with their mother.

Judge Connelly ignored the children’s claims that their mother had sexually abused them, instead accusing their father, Justin, of parental alienation and ordering them into reunification to mend their relationship with their mother.

The reunification camp Maya, 16, and Sebastian, 12, were taken to is run by Dr. Lynn Steinberg and is located in Los Angeles.

Canadian attorney Brian Ludmer and pro-alienation practitioner asserted in an interview last year that Maya and Sebastian’s father had orchestrated the October incident where transporters were seen picking up and carrying both children against their will and put inside a vehicle.

In an exclusive interview with the Vanguard, Maya said she and her brother were taken to their grandmother’s home because her father and stepmother went to court that day and haven’t seen them since.

“We did not know what happened at court and that night police showed up at my grandma’s house with the transporters,” Maya said.

Their father and his family had no knowledge of their condition or that they had moved to Washington until Maya and Sebastian escaped from their mother’s house last month, according to a video posted on social media.

Maya explained that reunification with Dr. Steinberg was a traumatic experience that no child should have to endure.

“It was horrible. She‘s (Steinberg) a horrible person to be around and the way she was treating us was like we were less than human,” Maya said. “Anything we said didn’t matter.”

Dr. Steinberg repeatedly told them their father was “alienating” them from their mother and tried to get them to say the same thing, according to the 16-year-old.

“Reunification camps should not exist in a good society,” Maya said. “There is no good reason for it and it is only used to harm children.”

Reunification therapy and camps are controversial methods used by courts to remove children from their preferred parent or safe parent after raising allegations of abuse or mistreatment directed towards the other parent.

Allegations of abuse made against a parent, often the father, are overlooked and, instead, the court accuses the other parent of parental alienation and reverses custody, all too frequently placing children with abusive parents.

“The problems that we are seeing in family courts are similar across countries. We’re seeing the same problems everywhere. Abusers are getting awarded custody of children who have been abused or are at risk of abuse,” Danielle Pollack of National Safe Parents said on social media. “Accused abusers frequently cross-claim ‘parental alienation’ as a legal tactic which draws the attention of the court away from the abuse evidence.”

Authored by Senator Susan Rubio,  SB 331, would require the Judicial Council to establish judicial training programs for judges who perform duties in family law matters if made law.

Also known as Piqui’s Law, it would prohibit the court from ordering family reunification treatment, as defined, if passed by the legislature. The bill would require court-ordered counseling to primarily address the behavior or contribution to the resistance of the child by the parent seeking custody, according to the bill.

Maya said she doesn’t want anything to jeopardize Piqui’s Law from being made law and should be passed as is, which currently does not address how courts use parental alienation.

“I think parental alienation is entirely wrong,” Maya said. “It’s used to silence people who have been abused. I don’t think it should be used in family court at all but I don’t want anything to stop Piqui’s law from happening.”

SB 331 unanimously passed the State Senate 38-0 on May 25 and is now being considered by the State Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Reem Alsalem, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and children presented her April 2023 report on child custody and parental alienation to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday.

“And the most troubling part is the deliberate orders issued by courts to return a child to an abusive parent, even when there is credible evidence of abuse,” Alsalem said.

Special Rapporteur for the United Nations Reem Alsalem speaking at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday, June 23, 2023. (Screenshot by Robert J. Hansen)

Alsalem’s report recommended that states prohibit the use of pseudo-scientific parental alienation as well as the use of reunification camps in family courts worldwide.

“[Individuals] felt they were unfairly treated in family courts and were losing custody unfairly because of this pseudo-concept of parental alienation being invoked against them,” Alsalem said. “There is a need to center the needs and testimonies of victims and to adopt a child-centered approach that prioritizes the best interest of the child.”

Maya’s advice to other kids going through similar situations was to never stop fighting and to always hold on to hope.

“Keep going and keep fighting against it because if you don’t then you’ll probably be wherever they (the courts) want you to be until you’re 18,” Maya said. “Fight against it because they’re not going to let you go home to your safe parent even if they say they are.”

Maya said they haven’t had much communication with their court-appointed attorneys except for telling them they want to live with their father and that “they haven’t been able to make that happen.”

“Recently we’ve reached out to them and they sort of just haven’t said anything and haven’t set up a meeting with us,” Maya said.

Maya said if Governor Gavin Newsom could sign an executive order staying all orders of reunification therapy, that would be incredible for children throughout California.

“If he could do that, that would be the most incredible thing for every kid in California,” Maya said. “That would protect all of us.”

About The Author

Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Robert is covering the Yolo County DA's race for the Vanguard.

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