No child should ever be put in danger or killed by a parent because the judicial system could not do its job. Sadly, every year 58,000 at-risk children are regularly ordered into unsupervised visitation with an abusive parent by state family courts each year.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz has noticed these alarming numbers and last week passed a landmark bill, (A2375B) which creates new standards for a profession that often has significant influence in the outcomes of custody and visitation hearings. The legislation was spurred by the tragic death of Kyra Franchetti and other young children who have been murdered by a parent that was granted custody or visitation despite known histories of violence and abuse.
Franchetti was 28-months-old when she was murdered by her father in 2016 during an unsupervised, court-approved visit, despite warnings and eyewitness accounts of threatening and abusive behavior.
“I am incredibly thankful to Assemblyman Dinowitz for the unwavering commitment and dedication to the forensic evaluator training bill,” said Jacqueline Franchetti, founder of Kyra’s Champions. “There was a forensic evaluator in Kyra’s case who failed. Child custody cases are life and death situations, and we need evaluators to fully understand the dynamics of family violence, child abuse and trauma. Our children’s lives depend on this.”
The legislation adds new requirements that a child custody forensic evaluator be a New York state-licensed psychologist, social worker or psychiatrist who has undergone biennial domestic violence-related training. The legislation also tasks the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence to work with the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence to develop this training program. Standards for child custody forensic evaluators currently varies by county in New York State.
The Center for Judicial Excellence, which is a child advocacy nonprofit organization that promotes judicial accountability and child safety, found that more than 700 children nationwide have been killed since 2008 by a parent or parental figure during circumstances involving divorce, separation, custody, visitation or child support. The organization also found that at least 98 children in 40 states have been killed by a parent or parental figure after a family court allowed unsupervised contact with a child despite knowledge of a violent history, mental illness, or risk of harming a child.
The legislation has not yet passed in the State Senate.
“The death of any child is a tragedy, but it is especially tragic when that death could have been prevented by a better qualified assessment of a child’s safety in a custody proceeding,” Dinowitz said. “I am proud to have crafted this legislation, which reflects a consensus among child safety advocates and family court reformers, and I urge my colleagues in the State Senate to pass this bill as soon as possible.”