Thank you, Congress, for Putting Child Safety First!

Important update!

Congress passed House Conc. Resolution 72 on September 24th, late into the evening.

This was a bipartisan effort with tireless support from child advocates, lawyers and legislators from across the country. This was a tremendous first step toward improving safety, mental health and family stability for children!

Watch this video courtesy of C-SPAN to hear what Representatives from both the Republican and Democratic parties have to say about this new mandate to states and courts. The video is linked in the previous sentence. To comment on this legislation and story, please use the Contact form here.

My Advocate Center supports Georgia Courts in improving child safety and mental health.

Why did My Advocate Center begin publishing information about this proposed resolution back in April of 2018?  The answer: child safety and emotional well-being should always be the first priority of every legal matter involving children. Always. Most of us, however, could not fathom that this has NOT been the case; in fact, the true needs of children, including protection from an abusive parent, are often ignored.

You’ve seen the news reports, heard the stories and talked about it on social media, or maybe only quietly shared it with your counselor when privately grieving what has happened to you or to your loved ones.

The next step for Georgians is to ask our policy leaders to help create momentum on this issue. Please sign the petition below and get to know your U.S. Representatives by sharing your experience with them.

What is the overall goal?

Keeping our children safe, our families stable and healthy, protecting our rights as parents and grandparents to care for our own children. To do this, we need to improve how our courts and legal professionals manage family disputes that enter the the legal system.

Did you know? We reached over 1000 signatures on our previous petition, so just imagine what we can do now!

Catch Them Doing Right in Three Steps

Do you want better service & greater value?

In our busy lives and with so many challenges confronting us we’re often too distracted to notice when someone is doing right by us or by our children. Do you find yourself only watching out for the next hurdle or bump in the road? It’s very easy to fall into this trap, especially if you’ve been hurt or taken advantage of along the way.

Managing our own responses to others can be exhausting, but it can also be what sets us free!

If your biggest job is parenting your children, you may be so caught up in redirecting behavior that is not what you desire that you forget to catch them doing right. It’s easy to be so focused to miss that window to give them that timely smile, pat on the back or other type of reward or encouragement. We all need that acknowledgment, but it may not come as often as we need or want. If it’s something you want or need, try giving it away more often than you seek it for yourself.

Can you say to yourself or to your children that you want to enjoy their company, that you want to appreciate them? Or, are you too caught up in monitoring performance and guiding them, being somewhere on time, managing appearances whether it’s your own or theirs?

Make more room for enjoying their company, the fact that you have each other, and take a chance that the other things will follow. Let your response be positive expectation of something that is natural and easy to give.

Keep trying. I’ll admit that this is a process, not something that’s mastered or overcome, but each success builds on another.

The same thing applies to professionals who serve others in our legal system, the ones we need or learn about only because we’re snagged by a legal problem.

It is natural for people who are anxiously and uncomfortably dealing with a legal matter to focus on everything that is wrong, everything that brings uncertainty and expense. It is less than natural to recognize when a lawyer, a paralegal, court clerk, staff attorney, judge, bailiff, court reporter, social worker or other court professional is not only doing right by you, but going out of their way to add value or simply make something unpleasant more bearable for you.

The people who serve in ways that show that you matter, these are the people I’m asking you to acknowledge and encourage. You may need to take a moment to learn more about their roles to understand what good service or value looks like or sounds like, so just ask if you want that insight. But you should be able to recognize patience, kindness and time well spent on your own, right? So, all you need to do is make a point to look for it and acknowledge it. Doing this and doing it more often will not only encourage more positive service, but it will make what you are facing less burdensome.

Over many years of spending time with families and professionals during high-conflict times, observing or filming in courtrooms, researching in clerk’s offices, presenting to a jurist or making a case before some other authority figure, I’ve gathered a lot of data to illustrate these three key points for you.

Write these down and carry them with you:

  1. You matter, and you can influence how people treat you and serve your family.
  2. There are people in every role and in each jurisdiction who do their jobs well, and who care.
  3. How you respond, whether or not you acknowledge good service, ethical conduct and professionalism makes a difference.

FOR EVERY PROBLEM THERE IS A SOLUTION:

The problem I’d like to see solved by acknowledging value and good service in our court system has to do with unhealthy trends and bad practices I’ve documented over several years, actually going on a decade now. The problem is so widespread, the negative trends and damaging practices so many and pervasive, that writing and speaking about this has taken up much more time and space than is desirable. Yes, a lot of work is ongoing to manifest solutions to these problems, but a key component of the solution is recognizing when things go right, when performance by professionals is excellent, and saying so.

Ask for and expect what you need from professionals and from those you must interact with during times of conflict. Even though you aren’t at your best and may be misstepping constantly, you can ask for help to do better, to be more articulate and prepared, maybe less emotional.

When someone provides the support you request and helps you complete even the most simple task, that’s a win; and, it not only helps you ease your own stress by showing appreciation, it helps build more success in the person you are acknowledging.

I’m glad to talk through this with you if you are caught in conflict and trying to find ways to better manage what you’re going through; but I assure you that this very simple method – the tool of gratitude, appreciation and acknowledgment – will help carry you through many rough days and can significantly impact your outcome.

If you’re a parent snagged in a legal matter, for sure you want to model this behavior for your children so they can learn about confidence and courage even in the midst of strife. Let your children see you making the choice to deal with problems appropriately, whether the problem is their own misconduct or a failure by a professional. When kids see their parents balance confrontation with appreciation or positive acknowledgment, it serves them well in that moment and throughout life. Yes, it’s a tough balancing act, but showing what’s possible – and recognizing the possible in others – is highly rewarding and worth the effort.

Deb Beacham

Perpetrator of Domestic Violence Commits Murder-Suicide

A nationwide extradition order for Kelley James McDonald Jr. wasn’t enough to stop him from showing up in Georgia to murder his victim and her sister. Fortunately the three children involved are still alive, but two of the three are hospitalized with injuries including a gunshot wound to the teen girl.

McDonald was on the run for the last two weeks according to local Tampa news sources before locating his target and murdering her and her sister before taking his own life.

Law enforcement is still searching for the driver of a Ford Explorer believed to have traveled with McDonald. The color of the vehicle is described as gold or champagne.

The two year-old child injured at the house during the murders is McDonald’s own child. As is typical of perpetrators of domestic violence, harming what is believed to be his own child was apparently not a concern of McDonald. A sixteen year-old girl was shot and needed surgery.

Lumpkin County Sheriff shared with Georgia news media including WSB-TV that the deaths in north Georgia stemmed from a domestic abuse situation in Florida.

However, it’s important to point out that what occurred in Florida showed clear intent to cause permanent harm. The perpetrator did not just act “in the heat of the moment.” He broke in and attempted murder by strangulation.

Domestic abuse is too generic a term for what escalated into murder in this case. The criminal report specifically state battery by strangulation and burglary with assault/battery.

The AJC reported that the Sheriff is trying to determine how McDonald made it to the home to take their lives. In the meantime, we need to better educate victims and the public on ways to identify the kind of behavior that leads to loss of life. Sometimes there is a weapon involved, like a gun or maybe a knife as in the Kristofak murder in Cobb County after John Kristofak was let out of jail only 7 months into his four year sentence. In other instances the murderous mind uses others in an attempt to keep his hands clean and his reputation intact, such as was the case with Fred Tokars. Sometimes the perpetrator stops just short of murder, leaving the victim severely injured and suffering for a lifetime.

But we know enough about these deviants of society who desire to do harm to their victims, no matter the cost.

McDonald’s victim, the mother of his child, was right to leave the state of Florida and flee to Georgia to shelter with family. Unfortunately, she likely believed that she and her family would be safe from him. He was able to obtain access to another vehicle and show up at the residence of a family member to find and kill her.

In sharing this story, I encourage anyone who is battered by another to take the warnings very seriously. If you are subjected to cruelty and aware that a perpetrator will not hold back on causing you injury just because children are present, this is a solid indicator that greater harm will follow.

When a perpetrator is determined to locate the victim, he or she will likely employ whatever tactics can be managed, whether legal or not.

 

To news media and law enforcement:

This is not just another unfortunate incident or shocking murder story. Please let it be a wake-up call – – call it what it is and don’t soften the descriptives.

When a perpetrator of any form of criminal act involving domestic violence, abuse, cruelty, stalking – whatever label is used – shows you who he is, follow through. Protect the victim and the children. Communicate and engage in ways to keep the victim’s location secured and private.  Deal more harshly at the first sign that the perpetrator is not concerned about accountability.

Let’s not merely be busy or shocked and dismayed, but moved to prevent the next tragedy and loss of life. These children needed their mother to be kept safe. They need what they can no longer have.

We know the warning signs, we have the laws, but do we have the willpower and stamina to stay after those with cruel, destructive mindsets to stop them?

 

Photo courtesy of WSB-TV investigative reporter Mike Petchenik.

 

Georgia Political Update: Victim Protection and Perpetrator Accountability

Many of our citizens believe that protection for victims is the battle cry only heard from the progressive side of the aisle, but in this past legislative session I learned about the role of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and how conservative values drove policy reform efforts to better serve victims of abuse and to improve safety and stability for our citizens.

One of the things that stood out for me is that the Georgia Baptist Mission acknowledged its members have as much to lose as other religious groups from extending statutes of limitations for suing not only sexual predators but also the entities that enabled and/or covered for the predator. In spite of this financial and public exposure risk, the Baptist leadership stated firmly its position to seek better protection for the vulnerable and real accountability for perpetrators of child exploitation.

This is not a liberal or conservative issue, nor is it a characteristic of one party or another.

It is resoundingly a matter of right versus wrong.

We need more of this form of advocacy, this type of integrity and leadership. We need more people across society to loudly and firmly, “No,” to putting profit over protection. In my work and social engagement, online and offline, I’ll continue to acknowledge and support good work by those on all sides of political, faith, protection and enforcement issues. The more we all pull together and close the divides that exist around this problem, the faster we save lives and stop abuses of all forms.

The topics of predatory behavior, the lack of transparency and accountability for perpetrators, the lack of protection for children and adult victims of abuse, and the extreme difficulty for victims and survivors to recover are ones I’ve been studying, analyzing and reporting on for years. I’ll continue this work far into the future, specifically focused on solutions that both prevent and assist in recovery.

I’m especially grateful to all participating actively and investing in creating change in this area of our society. Thank you for standing up, speaking out, and showing up repeatedly and demonstrating your commitment to improving safety and allowing for recovery.

In this section below, I’ve included an excerpt of the legislative update from the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s Public Affairs team:

SEXUAL ABUSE

“On a positive side was legislation like HB 732, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Silcox, that increases fines and penalties for pandering and solicitation for sex trafficking. These are the “middle men” who are out there drumming up business for pimps and johns. This legislation is needed to crack down on all who are a part of sexual exploitation of individuals for sex trafficking in our state. See GBC resolution on this issue https://gabaptist.egnyte.com/dl/JTaByb5jS7/RESOLUTION_ON_HUMAN_TRAFFICKING.PDF_ .

Rep. Jason Spencer addresses the topic of sexual predators at a press conference. MIKE GRIFFIN/Index

A bill that caused a sizable amount of controversy had to do with HB 605, The Hidden Predator Act. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Spencer, (https://christianindex.org/children-hidden-predator-act-2018/ ) passed the House by a 170-0 vote. The bill basically allowed the statute of limitations to be extended to allow victims of child sex abuse to sue entities who had covered up child sexual abuse in the past. The bill was severely amended in the Senate. (https://christianindex.org/legislative-update-georgia-hidden-predator-act/ ) It was amended so much that there was very little legal remedy left for those whose statute of limitations had run out for criminal prosecution.  This legislation was introduced in the context of the legal cases regarding the Boy Scouts, The Catholic Church and USA Gymnastics.

Georgia Baptists supported this bill because we felt that it struck a balance in allowing the victims to sue, and the rights of the entities to defend themselves. However, because of the severe amending done by the Senate, the House did not agree with their version. The Senate would not appoint a conference committee and the House would not agree to the changes and the bill, therefore, died. This is a sad outcome for these victims/survivors of child sexual abuse.”

 

Let me know about your involvement in these issues and how I can better support you by contacting me here, and by connecting and engaging on social media.

Thank you,

Deb Beacham

My Advocate Center on Twitter

Facebook Advocacy

 

Warm Christmas and Holiday Wishes

To all who have been following and supporting My Advocate Center whether since inception in 2011 or in recent weeks and months, thank you and Merry Christmas!

Stay warm and stay kind, encourage advocacy and generosity wherever you are, and remember to put the needs of our children first and you will be blessed.

Deb Beacham, Founder

 

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

 

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Our Wish is for Children to Be Cared for by Safe, Loving Parents

These simple wishes this holiday season remain our top priority:

family, charity, healthcare, health. christmas, x-mas and happy

Return children who have been removed from parents they love and need. Prevent children from being sent out of state and isolated for the purpose of silencing them.

Restore relationships between children and parents when they are separated for all the wrong reasons, and even cut off from all communication.

Protect children who are being abused, including emotionally abused when safe, loving parents are threatened with the loss of their children.

Protect the rights of parents asking court professionals to ensure they stay in the lives of their children. When the opportunity presents, help them recover from trauma and loss associated with these avoidable problems.

Show some courage and help grant them their wishes!