Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody

Having visited many courtrooms around the state of Georgia over the last decade, for extended hours observing and studying in clerk’s offices, I can say there is a marked difference between judges who have an eye and ear for filtering out abusive and deceptive tactics, and those who don’t.

This Guide was developed by the NCJFCJ for judges and other officers of the court to use for the specific purpose of enhancing child safety.

Coercive control is one of the key terms identifying the methods used by a parent who is willing to use children to harm the other parent and/or for financial gain. Being a compelling liar often goes hand-in-hand with the ability to effectively coerce a child or parent into complying with demands. Another sign that coercive control is being used is that the controlling parent and counsel are indifferent to the trauma caused to the children and the targeted or victimized parent.

Please download and share this Guide, and contact the NCJFCJ with questions, and let me know if local case studies might be helpful for your staff. This Guide and the related Trauma-Response documents are equally important for law enforcement, child protective services and all first responders, especially pediatricians and emergency room staff and doctors.

Deb Beacham

Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Preparing Your Court for a Trauma Consult

Being trauma-informed means asking,

What happened to you and how can we help?

versus

What is wrong with you?

The Trauma Manual for Judges in Family and Juvenile Courts

Informed judicial officers and other court professionals can make an immediate, positive impact on children and parents who are being traumatized by abuse and fraud within their immediate family or through their extended family units.

This applies to schools, churches and to healthcare companies and organizations as well. The kind of stress and trauma that is inflicted in litigation, especially where custody disputes are used as weapons against a victim of domestic abuse or fraud, for example. Any first responder, mandated reporter of abuse or anyone interacting with families and children in a professional capacity should become trauma-informed.

We believe it’s worth spending the extra time learning and discussing these issues with court officials, professionals in other fields, and also with family members in your cases to engage them in the process.

This guide or Trauma Manual as referred to by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges will go a long way toward making your courtroom a safer and more constructive path for those who enter your court seeking protection and relief from abuse. [Read the Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases to learn to recognize signs that abuse may be concealed from the record.]

NCJFCJ Trauma Manual for Family and Juvenile Court Judges by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Trauma Prevention in Courts: What Judges Should Know

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has developed several insightful tools for judges and court staff involved with families dealing with conflict and troubling transitions. Mental health, family violence / economic abuse, child abuse and neglect, addiction, loss of homes and jobs, confusion and fear all mix together to bring new and greater challenges to our courts every day.

Previously I wrote about the Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases as the safety of children is often lost in the shuffle of legal documents and tactics to gain an advantage. Improving safety, reducing stress and keeping loving, safe parents together with their children can be back-burnered when professionals appearing before judges are too focused on billings.

Denying children safety or peace of mind and failing to protect parents who are being victimized by physical, mental and/or economic abuse translates to trauma and trauma-related symptoms that can set children up to fail, impacting them harshly for life. Fortunately more professionals are making time to learn and to advocate against abuse and uncertainty, and policy leaders are making this a priority.

Please read and share these documents with your staff and other judges and court professionals you know. Preparing to assess trauma and to respond for the sake of improving safety and recovery time will save lives. Contact me here if you would like to review case studies that show the difference – how lives are saved vs. lost depending on how courts respond to abuse of parents and children.

The Trauma Manual for Judges can be downloaded from this page as the next step after reading the “Changing Minds” Infographic below.

Thank you for paying attention – and taking action on this important topic!

Deb Beacham

Trauma Infographic for Judges 2016 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Child Safety Must Come First by US Representatives

Great news for children and parents being denied protection from domestic abuse, who are often harmed during prolonged child custody litigation.

Please read, share and contact your state’s leaders to join in with their support of this House Resolution No. 72.

Georgia’s children and parents are especially vulnerable, as hundreds of cases across the state now prove. Television and print news media and several independent journalists have documented professional conduct in what is referred to as “sensitive” cases, including by filing Rule 22 Requests to Record judicial proceedings.

The big deal about the conduct being documented is this: the way many Georgia child custody cases are managed often puts children in harm’s way as they are given to the parent most likely to cause stress or injury.  It is hard to fathom if you can not see it firsthand, but sometimes court professionals, including child custody experts, go so far as to deny children and adult victims of domestic abuse protection and even necessary medical and psychological care.

If you live in Georgia, you can find your U.S. Representatives here. Please encourage your representatives to read and support this resolution. And, in Georgia, learn how you can encourage leadership to keep our courts and court records open and accessible.

As these cases are usually cloaked by a veil of secrecy, and speaking about what is happening to the family is frowned upon and outright discouraged, it is critical that journalists are not restricted in recording judicial proceedings or in obtaining case records.

Both of these issues, policy to improve child safety and rules governing the ability to record judicial proceedings, need your attention.

Thank you!

Child Safety and Child Custody in House Resolution 72 / Bipartisan Support by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Protect Children from Psychological Abuse: Policy

Common sense tells us that causing worry in children is unhealthy for them. When one parent causes their child to doubt, resent, avoid or fear the other parent, assuming no actual safety threat exists, this can have severe and lasting harm on the child’s mental and emotional well-being. Don’t take my word for it.

You can observe children being subjected to family / parenting conflict in every community if you are concerned about this form of psychological abuse and know even a little about what to look for. Use the Contact Us form at the top right of this page if you’d like more information.

It is also undisputed that when a parent is physically or emotionally abusive to the other parent, whether pre- or post-separation, including through the use of deception, manipulation, financial control or financial deprivation to destabilize or shame the other parent, the harm translates directly to a negative impact on the children. Children cannot possibly feel good about themselves when one parent is harming the other and working to destroy a parent-child bond and relationship. Whether the stress and troubling feelings are apparent or not, they are there – and are dangerous to the child.

This is a child safety and mental health issue we should all want addressed.  Our court officials are given instruction by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges in this Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases, including specific detail on how to recognize and correct harmful tactics used by a parent against another such as coercive control. This form of abuse may not be seen at first glance or if an investigation disallows evidence of domestic abuse, which unfortunately is often the case. One key point in this Guide is that perpetrators of family violence, coercive control, economic abuse, mental cruelty, etc., position themselves forcefully and deceptively as victims; they can be good actors and enabled by professionals paid to suppress evidence of real abuse and victimization. As such, this is a tough area to resolve so it is important that more courts put the information in this Guide to good use.

Family violence / domestic abuse cases often include some form of child abuse, especially where the perpetrator is willing and able to use children to inflict pain on the targeted parent. It makes sense that if a parent is willing to harm his or her child’s other parent, the offending parent is indifferent to the harm caused to the child. Some parents are so lacking in empathy that they intentionally and willfully use their children as tools or weapons to cause distress, uncertainty about the child’s well-being or whereabouts, grief from having a child wrongfully removed, and some use children for their own financial gain, even if it means causing the loss of the child’s home and pets.

Perpetrators of abuse refuse to accept they can no longer access victims physically, so they use children as the means to gain proximity and to appear justified in sending disturbing messages in person or through digital means. There really is no limit to what an unhealthy person will do to another, so it is up to the Court to intervene.

This highlighted page embedded below was printed from Florida’s legislation updates page. I’ll get a clean copy uploaded soon for you to download or you can search for it online in the meantime. What matters is that leadership in Florida recognizes the damage to children and spells out the mental impact of psychological abuse, including when adults punitively or selfishly act to break bonds between children and safe, loving and available parents.

It is the intent to cause harm to the other parent, the indifference to the harm and deprivation of the child, and repeated, ongoing acts to shut out a good parent that causes me to share the proposed language of this bill. The term “alienation” is too often misused, so that word or description should not be substituted for plain language detailing acts of intentional abuse and family violence.

FL Bill to Include Psychological Abuse and Alienation of Children in Certification by Deb Beacham

Cameras Needed in Courtrooms

Do Cameras in Courtrooms Make a Difference?

There is no question that our citizens are safer when there is transparency in legal matters, but some judges are going out of their way, even issuing gag orders to media in addition to parties and sealing records in select cases, to prevent a review of what goes wrong in child custody matters when laws, facts and evidence are ignored or concealed from the court.

For several years I’ve been observing, analyzing and reporting on issues in family conflict matters that are causing avoidable stress and loss to children and to loving, safe and available parents. At the center of all of my research and reporting is the needs of children, which too often are forgotten or just set aside. The reports are not what matters, but the possibility of improving outcomes for children; the correct term for this form of journalism is Solutions-Based Journalism.

This form of news media and investigative reporting may not be popular in some circles as it challenges the dangerous status quo, but if it didn’t matter, we wouldn’t be talking about Rule 22 laws and cameras in courtrooms in this state. This is a critical topic the public needs to know is being debated and decided, so I’ll share more of my work and that of other journalists to support understanding and participation in this debate. In the meantime, please ask video journalist Nydia Tisdale about her experience filming public events and proceedings, and ask how you can support her efforts to inform citizens and increase transparency. Her unique work has been featured by news media not only in Georgia but by the Associated Press for her bold moves to support open government and greater public participation.

The more you know, the greater likelihood you’ll contact your legislators and your local news media because we do need cameras in courtrooms and we do need ongoing reporting about how family conflict and legal matters are managed.

A major issue for all, including for ethical, talented legal and healthcare professionals, is that foul play by certain other professionals is rampant and worsening with each year. In part this is due to a vulnerable and unsuspecting public but is also due to a cloudy courtroom landscape where it is easy to disguise bad faith and unethical tactics used to increase billable hours.

Another factor in the worsening of predatory & harmful case management is that certain judges are willing to play along, such as in this highly unusual Augusta situation which was investigated and reported on by local news media.

In the case featured in the news report below, the judge gave custody of the mother’s daughter to her ex-boyfriend when he gave custody of her two sons to this man, their father. However, the man has no biological or legal relationship to the girl, meaning this child and her mother were tormented and torn apart unnecessarily. Note: I have no connection to these parties, no bias or preference other than for facts and laws to count for the children involved. After studying dozens of cases closely in the Augusta Judicial Circuit, collaborating with local news media & seeing news stories through to completion, I know these courtrooms and local practices well and stand by my work and these news reports. Also worth noting, this is not water under the bridge for these children and their families; the damages are ongoing, and more families are being harmed in similar ways as you read this.

The Featured Report:

If the facts and evidence of this case justified an award of custody to the father of the boys, that would be reasonable, but the court also ignored the physical, visible evidence of family violence.

In a separate conversation we’ll feature more of the instruction for judges pursuant to the Georgia Domestic Violence Bench Book, which should be required reading for court officers and court staff such as clerks, social workers and others working with judges on these cases. This Bench Book is available online and published as a 10th edition, with participation from dozens of professionals from around the state of Georgia, so it’s not a secret to our courts that family violence, including in making determinations of custody and visitation, is a matter to be taken seriously.

Please review this news report and ask yourself how this could happen, why a judge would do this, and if the judge is making this kind of ruling, what else is going wrong in his courtroom.

Another key question is whether or not this court and this family could have benefitted from the application of instructions found in the Judicial Guide to Child Custody.

Solutions to Consider:

First, learn about your local courts before you enter into a legal action. Learn about practices of professionals before you sign agreements and pay retainers. Understand why so many families are losing their homes, health and jobs during or following litigation and especially why so many children are kept in or moved to unsafe environments.

Next, learn about accountability systems that exist to provide oversight of professional conduct, including judges and other court officers and experts who help determine outcomes. Do you see any consequences being given to professionals in your area or are you familiar with any investigations into questionable conduct of those managing these types of cases?

Learn from the testimony of lawyers, doctors, teachers, parents, grandparents and others who are brave enough and articulate enough to state clearly what they experience or witness, and who are willing to call it what it is – especially if something improper has transpired, as in this Augusta news report.

Remember that all of these court professionals, including judges and child custody experts, are human, meaning they make mistakes, become fatigued and even worn out by the extreme emotions displayed in these cases; none of them, and none of us, are perfect. But the reality is that they have sworn to uphold our laws and they have a duty to do what is right by the children caught in litigation and who are often torn apart in the process.

Where you have the opportunity to encourage the use of cameras in courtrooms, with proper approval of Rule 22 Requests to Record, Videotape and/or Audiotape, to Televise or otherwise make publicly available these proceedings, please do so as it is highly likely you will help save lives.

Please contact My Advocate Center and let me know if you have questions or would like to contribute toward making these solutions available.

Thank you,

Deb Beacham, Founder