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!

What is Stalking and Why is it a Dangerous Crime?

The Fatality Review Annual Report for 2017 addresses misconceptions about stalking and explains why it is a much more dangerous crime, connecting to more deaths of domestic violence victims, than most people realize.

Stalking involves a course of conduct by the perpetrator that is meant to cause fear and uncertainty or an expectation of harm in the victim. It is often an unseen or almost invisible crime, but the danger lurking around the corner or in the shadows is always a sign of trauma and injury to follow.

This course of conduct is also found in civil cases where one party – the aggressor or perpetrator of crimes paying to avoid accountability and block protection for the victim and children involved – uses stalking tactics to destabilize the victim. It is no less of a crime when stalking occurs in the context of a scheme to cause harm during litigation. The intent is provoke the victim into appearing more scared and to the point of looking paranoid than the targeted party would be otherwise. Because stalking can be obscured and sometimes explained away by the perpetrator, the victim may be easily discredited and thereby unable to receive protection. The perpetrator is then free to continue the stalking and harassing behavior. In situations like the one just described, the perpetrator often uses others to stalk and harass by proxy.

This scenario is one seen in many cases reported to My Advocate Center, and it is often the case that professionals being paid by the perpetrator are assisting in the series of crimes by coordinating and covering for the perpetrator. Doing so is profitable because it also helps prolong litigation as the perpetrator will pay to escalate the stress and injury to the victim while avoiding accountability for the criminal behavior. This is a dangerous trend in family courts and one that must be addressed now before more lives are lost – including those of the children witnessing this form of domestic or family violence.

 

Georgia Domestic Violence – Fatality Review Annual Report 2017 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Remaking of Minds using Psychological Abuse

It’s possible to wear someone down to the point of making them think and act in ways they otherwise would not. This is one form of psychological abuse explained by Psychology Today in this article that reveals what happens to children who are mistreated within the context of family conflict.

My goal since beginning research on this problem, and then reporting on the ways children are used and harmed through the mismanagement of family conflict, has always been about reducing childhood trauma and disrupting cycles of dysfunction.

The dysfunction I’m referring to manifests as addiction, mental illness caused by family violence, sexual abuse and neglect of children, abandonment, financial failure and home loss, suicide and divorce as primary examples. Children experiencing these forms of dysfunction are more vulnerable to exploitation, more inclined to rage and desperation. Boys seem to be more severely impacted by divorcing parents than girls, according to this article featured on Mic.com which explains the commonality between young men involved in shooting rampages. [See Ready, Aim, Fire at Pain and Anguish]

A prominent dysfunction is also seen in how bonds between loving, safe parents and their children are broken down and destroyed. Georgia law speaks to misconduct in the form of poisoning the mind of a child against a parent, showing that this is abuse and that it harms both the child and the targeted parent.

The term often used in courts and by psychologists is parental alienation. Alienation of affection is specifically prohibited in court orders governing custody and care of children of divorced parents. If one parent acts to cause distance and break the loving bond between the child and the other parent, he or she can be held in contempt. Why this form of misconduct is not being confronted and corrected in our courts is a separate matter.

The term as an allegation of wrongdoing, however, has been improperly applied often in Georgia court cases involving actual child abuse and/or domestic violence, to blame the victimized or protective parent trying to keep the child safe and the abused parent’s rights intact.

The right to nurture and care for one’s own child is a protected right in our courts, but that right is stripped away by wrongfully condemning the targeted or abused parent for “alienating” the child from the perpetrator of abuse. As a result of this misapplication of the term alienation, it has had a polarizing effect on parents who have suffered from its use and amongst professionals involved in family conflict.

Another useful article on this subject featured in Pyschology Today can be found here.

Notoriously and across the globe, parental alienation syndrome (“PAS”) has been used by questionable custody experts to fault protective parents by claiming the safe parent has engaged in a sickness, a disorder, to cause an abused child or child who has witnessed or experienced family violence to want distance from the abusive parent. The conduct of such professionals goes against the needs of the child and is in direct conflict with laws specific to child safety and protection.

What the expert is saying to the child is that he or she should accept the abuse as normal. It is common for experts appointed or hired in custody cases to normalize abusive conduct, including psychological abuse, neglect, violence and even sexual abuse. Actually, this tactic is most commonly used in cases involving true sexual abuse of children to discredit the abused child and the parent fighting to protect the child. Of course, the expert, whether a psychologist or attorney acting as a guardian ad litem, is being paid to manage or filter information going to and from the child, to the court and other authorities, but always in a way that serves to guard the abuser and restrict the safer or more nurturing and emotionally healthy parent.

The expert is saying to the safe, protective parent that you should avoid asking for protection or else face condemnation and separation from your child. This tactic is based in fraud and often involves acts of false reporting and perjury by the experts influencing courts and other authorities against the safe parent and in favor of the abuser. Claiming that a parent who seeks help for a child who is having medical or psychological treatment withheld by an abusive parent, for example, is alienating the child from the other (abusive) parent is a false allegation.

This is extremely common in such cases involving child custody where there is evidence of actual abuse and the perpetrator expects the custody experts to suppress evidence of abuse. The false allegation serves to put the safe parent on the defensive, forcing him or her to spend more money defending against the false allegation. The focus of the expert’s investigation, instead of being on the perpetrator of abuse and on protecting the child, becomes a series of substantial steps to condemn an innocent parent. This is why U.S. legislators included language in a Congressional concurrent resolution discourages the use of “parental alienation syndrome,” as it is misused or used for wrongful purposes.

For the purposes of this article and throughout the rest of my reports, the terms alienation, alienating behavior and parental alienation are referring to the abusive conduct by either a party to family conflict or a professional engaged in targeting the safe parent and exploiting, for profit, the children involved. Any form of alienating behavior is an intentional act to cause harm and should be identified and corrected as such; children should be protected from this form of abuse.

The proposed legislation is solid, but there are other tactics involving psychological abuse and professional misconduct yet to be addressed. There are a host of false allegations and abusive methods that come in to play in litigation, but what they all have in common is that they cause trauma and increase risk of other injuries to both children and loving parents.

There is an entire body of work on this form of psychological abuse shown above in the poisoning of a child’s mind and in the manipulation of their normal behavior to break the bond between parents and children. Psychology Today featured the work of Dr. Craig Childress to explain the harm done and to demonstrate what can be done to address and correct the damaging misconduct. Excerpts of this spotlight on the issues follow:

Trauma to Safe Parents and Children

  • Enduring the experience of parental alienation is also a profound form of psychological trauma experienced by targeted parents. It is both acute and chronic, and externally inflicted. It is thus a type of domestic violence directed at the target parent. The fact that children witness such abuse of a parent also makes alienation a form of child abuse. This is perhaps the principal source of anxiety for the alienated parents, who witness the abuse of their children, and are prevented from protecting them.
  • This psychological trauma of alienated parents differs from what groups like combat veterans face when they develop PTSD, yet the experience of targeted parents is a form of trauma as debilitating as any other. Although not all parents who are victims of parental alienation experience trauma, as the same event that plunges one parent into trauma may not do so with another, those who are closely attached to their children and were actively involved in their lives most certainly do.
  • Losing the bond with your child is also a form of complex trauma. It is no coincidence that the pathology of the parent who engages in alienation is often born in complex trauma from the childhood of that parent, and that the current processes of attachment-based parental alienation are transferring onto the targeted parent a form of complex trauma. The childhood trauma experience leads to the development of the aggression behind parental alienation. From a psychodynamic perspective, the processes of parental alienation represent a reenactment of the childhood attachment trauma of the alienating parent into the current family relationships. The trauma reenactment narrative represents a false drama created by the pathology of the alienating parent, in which the targeted parent is being assigned the trauma reenactment role as the “abusive parent;” the child is being induced into accepting the trauma reenactment role as the supposedly “victimized child;” and the alienating parent adopts the role of the “protective parent.” None of this false drama, however, is true.
  • The parenting of the targeted parent is entirely in normal range, and the child is in no danger and does not need any protection from that parent.

The Nature of the Problem

  • A major impediment for victimized parents is that the problem is largely systemic in nature, as support services for alienated parents are virtually non-existent, and support services for their children are also in short supply.
  • When parents of alienated children attempt to bring their concerns to child welfare authorities, as parental alienation is a form of child abuse and thus a child protection matter, these agencies often disregard the problem, and when they do become involved, rarely share their findings in family court child custody hearings, despite the fact that this information will serve the best interests of the child.
  • In parental alienation situations the targeted parent is put on the defensive, and must continually try to prove to therapists and others that he or she is not “abusive” of the child. The targeted parent is often blamed for the child’s rejection, even though he or she did nothing wrong: “You must have done something wrong if your child doesn’t want to be with you.”
  • It is often deemed irrelevant that the parenting practices of the targeted parent are entirely within normal range. The alienating parent, often skilled in the use of adversarial combat (and thus rewarded within the current adversarial system), thus has the upper hand. In this upside-down world, your child is being taken from you, and no one seems to care or understand.
  • The emotional trauma inflicted on the targeted parent is severe, and the grief of the targeted parent is deep.

Keep in mind that the intent of the parent using alienating tactics against the targeted parent is to do harm. The effect if the abusive behavior if successful is erasing the targeted parent from the lives of their children either completely or to a significant degree.

There is no current solution to prevent this abuse or to help targeted parents and children overcome it.

  • The trauma experience captivates the psychology of the targeted parent, as the world of the targeted parent revolves entirely around the trauma experience and the false drama.
  • Repeated court dates, lawyers, therapists, custody evaluations, that all occur in the context of continuing parent-child conflict, consume the targeted parent. Yet it is vital for targeted parents to find ways of coping with the attachment-based complex trauma of parental alienation. They must strive to achieve the triumph of light over the darkness of trauma, and find their way out of the trauma experience being inflicted upon them.
  • They must free themselves from the imposed trauma experience, restoring their psychological health within the immense emotional trauma of their grief and loss.
  • As much as targeted parents desperately want to save their children, they cannot rescue their children from the quicksand by jumping into the quicksand with them. If they do, they will both perish. Instead, they must have their feet firmly planted on the ground, steady in your own emotional and psychological health, and then extend your hand to retrieve your child. But even then, given the nature of parental alienation and its profoundly damaging effects on a child, a child may not grasp the parent’s hand.

Can a Parent Engaged in Alienating Behavior Become Self-Aware and Change Course?

  • According to the work of Dr. Craig Childress, parental alienation is first and foremost an attachment-based trauma.
  • Attachment-based parental alienation is essentially a role reversal of a normal, healthy parent-child relationship.
  • Instead of serving as a “regulatory other,” which involves providing stability and meeting the child’s emotional and psychological needs, alienating parents use their children to meet their own needs, violating boundaries and seriously compromising and damaging the child’s healthy development.

If a parent is indifferent to the harm he or she is causing a child, that parent isn’t going to seek treatment and work to change behavior, let alone help heal the injury caused to children and the targeted parent. The alienating parent will refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing and, if confronted, will escalate the abusive behavior. Left to his or her own devices, the abusive parent will continue causing harm.

This pattern of continuing abuse despite laws and court orders is similar to that seen in the conduct of the perpetrator of domestic violence of a physical nature. The severity of the harm being done can be better understood by reading the statements made by Congress in House Resolution 72.

Intervention from authorities, responders, healthcare providers and other stakeholders in child protection is needed.

Learn more about tools provided to courts around the United States about coercion, bullying and deception of children, about how easy it is for the abusive parent to present as the better parent because of being skilled at lying and manipulating, and about approaches courts can take to remedy these forms of abuse.

Download and read the Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases.

Access insights about bullying and suicide rates.

Let’s talk if you are interested in learning more about solutions.

I appreciate your time here and commitment to improving protections for our children.

Deb Beacham

Fatalities in Georgia related to Stalking: Annual Report 2017

Georgia’s Commission on Family Violence and the Coalition Against Domestic Violence provide us each year with an annual report that is more than just stats, it’s a roadmap to saving lives. The 2017 report focuses on stalking and is a must read for all responders and advocates. It’s especially important for victims and family members or friends of victims.

 

Georgia Domestic Violence – Fatality Review Annual Report 2017 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

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

 

Early Intervention Key in Bullying of Children

Bullying is everywhere in our society and while we’re often made to believe we are over reacting or being too protective, the truth is that we may not be as responsive as is warranted given the lasting impact on bullied children.

How should you respond to a child who behaves like a bully or doesn’t handle stress well?

It’s hard to know when and in what form intervention should be provided, so it’s important to know the right specialists to evaluate each unique situation. Early intervention is always the best approach.

My Advocate Center’s data encompasses decades of study on forms of bullying, coercion and manipulation of both children and parents, so it is my hope that you’ll spend time on this subject and learn from the resource material shared here such as the CDC brochure below on bullying and suicide risk.

Another useful tool speaks to coercive control and can be found on this blog as the Judicial Guide to Child Safety.

This Judicial Guide addresses abusive conduct by a parent and was presented to family and juvenile courts across the U.S., but the terms, descriptions and responses are helpful in addressing bullying in other contexts.

What we know for certain is that the better informed parents are, and the more support they have in serving the needs of their children especially when any form of abuse is involved, the greater the opportunity for their children to remain safe, healthy and peaceful.

There are many forms and styles of bullying and harmful behavior, so if you do not see what you are looking for in this resource, please contact me using this request form.

Deb Beacham, Founder of My Advocate Center, Inc. and Pro Advocate Radio

 

Bullying and Suicide CDC Report_Violence Prevention by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Protected: Children Traded as Commodities

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