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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

Erasing Families Near You

This woman is an actress but on this video, in this horror story, she is not acting.

She speaks the truth for many thousands of parents and children across America and around the globe.

The act of erasing a loving, safe parent from the lives of his or her children is a profitable business, and a cruel one. This is the driving force behind much of our research and reporting into the conduct of lawyers and doctors acting as Guardian ad Litem or child custody evaluator, and it is the reality that led to the creation of this mild cartoon focused merely on the financial aspects of such cases.

But what can be done? Is there a way to help families avoid such loss?

First, watch this video, then contact me to learn more about solutions in motion.

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

Parents Rights in Georgia Law and Rule 22 Application

Rule 22 Governs Permission for Recording Court Proceedings

Parents in Georgia have rights that are often not applied in child custody cases, including when someone other than a natural parent is seeking custody of the children. But is anyone paying attention to this type of loss and trauma?

If you are paying attention or are interested in increasing this focus, contact me here.

Protecting the right to record and maintaining open access to courtrooms does improve protections for families and children.

The content to follow is a developing body of work revealing clear examples of the difference it makes to have cameras allowed in courtrooms and to avoid restricting our press.

While I have much more to do here I wanted you to have access now to documents and videos as I upload them and welcome your questions and feedback as this story unfolds. Your attention is needed to ensure we protect access to our judiciary and ensure our courtrooms remain open.

Two problems are ripe to be solved:

1. Missing clarification of Georgia’s laws on the rights of natural parents.

Georgia judges and domestic lawyers expressed interest in this case because it could help clarify what was previously an uncertain matter left to the court’s discretion. Let’s address this issue first.

In the case featured in this article, the lawyer for the maternal grandmother convinced the court that the children would be at risk if they were left in the care of their father. The father was able to receive help thanks to volunteer lawyers through the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation and successfully appealed the trial court’s order giving custody to the grandmother.

With no evidence in support of the grandmother’s claims that the father was a violent man, the trial court gave custody for a second time to the grandmother. This time the Court of Appeals made sure the message was received, that the rights of natural parents should be taken seriously and that absent clear proof of ongoing or future danger to the children the natural parent’s rights are above those of a grandparent. Attached first is the June 24th ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals, the final ruling driving home the instructions to adhere to the law and facts of the case. Additional filings and orders follow in reverse order.

Rights of Parents Georgia COA Jun 24 2016 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

2. A lack of transparency or ability to review proceedings in child custody matters

You might say this is the problem in all types of judicial proceedings, hence the attention given to the proposed amendments to Georgia’s Rule 22 governing decisions to allow filming or other types of recordings in courtrooms. Changes were proposed by Georgia’s judiciary and only a few organizations and individuals are focused on the flaws which could further restrict public access to court proceedings and discourage open records.

The focus here on child custody is due to the high volume of cases wherein children are used for leverage and/or to punish the other parent by moving to restrict rights, to cause pain and suffering or to avoid paying child support, for example. This is a widespread problem with almost nothing being done to curtail damaging tactics which exploit children and vulnerable parents.

Given the question of law governing the rights of natural parents and the opportunity to observe and film three pro bono lawyers fighting for a wrongfully accused father, I filed a Rule 22 Request to record this Hart County hearing. I learned about the case because the Court of Appeals had twice reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case.

When I began my investigation into the case history and factors that caused the reversal, I recognized the pattern of abusive litigation that is causing so many of Georgia’s children to lose access to loving, available parents. When you’ve seen this pattern of foul play unfold nearly one hundred times, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that intervention and transparency are needed.

There are several videos to this story:

Initially the hearing was set for late summer in 2016, and the grandmother’s attorney argued vehemently against having the proceeding filmed. This video portion will be added shortly.

After listening to her argument, the judge allowed the recording to go forward.  The lawyer was not about to give up on her strategy for denying the father custody, so another tactic was put into play that would either prejudice the court against the father or cause another delay, or both. This clip will be added.

Rather than allow the grandmother’s surprise expert to testify without fair notice and a deposition, the father’s counsel objected and moved to continue the hearing to allow for their deposition of this child custody psychologist Dr. Barbara Oxley.

The argument made by Athens attorney Ed Tolley is one often missed in similar proceedings. His argument and commentary from our interview will be added here.

The continued hearing was reset for December, 2016, and again the court ruled in favor of my Rule 22 Request, saying afterwards, “These days you’re afraid not to grant these things.” Interesting perspective and statement, but I’ll take it.

I’ll be back to complete this story and share the outcome, which will definitely surprise you!  In the meantime, please let me know if you’d like to contribute to additional use of Rule 22 Requests and other forms of increasing both public safety and especially better protections for parents and children.

The rest of the footage of the trial above will be shared in the coming days, and admittedly it will have much more meaning to children taken from safe parents, and for parents stripped of their right to nurture children without cause.

In the meantime, here’s another sampling of images and news reports that have meaning and which support protecting the intent and integrity of Rule 22.

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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