Advocates, lawmakers say family court system is failing families it was designed to protect
Growing calls for family court reform in the state come on the heels of a sobering statistic: 20 children have been killed by a parent in the past five years during custody disputes in New York. Advocates and lawmakers say the system is failing the families it was designed to protect.
Jaqueline Franchetti’s 28-month-old daughter, Kyra, was on a family court-approved visit in Virginia with her father when he shot the child twice in the back and set fire to his home in a murder-suicide. “I fought for her, but our court system is set up to protect the abuser and not the child. And that must stop," she says.
Franchetti says her domestic violence and safety concerns for the toddler were ignored by the judge, Child Protective Services, forensic evaluators and her daughter’s legal advocate in Nassau County. The 2016 tragedy is one of many custodial cases nationwide grabbing headlines and shining a spotlight on problems and loopholes in custodial courts.
Advocates and lawmakers say the system is outdated and hurting many of the families it was designed to protect.
“There needs to be significant wholesale reform to the family court system," says Sen. James Skoufis. Skoufis co-sponsored two reform bills, including Kyra’s Law - named after Franchetti’s daughter. “Kyra’s Law requires training of judges so that they are able to identify red flags where there is violence involved and make an informed decision that can keep a child safe," says Skoufis.
There are five family court reform bills pending in New York that would address child safety and close legal loopholes concerning due process concerns and the use of forensic evaluations in custody cases.
“What happened to Kyra can happen to a child you know and love unless changes are made," says Franchetti.
Just this week, the governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission released a report recommending that courts discontinue the use of psychiatric evaluations for parents, citing biases, inequalities and harmfulness to kids.
A representative for the New York State Unified Court System says they received the report and are reviewing the findings.