Draft legislation to reform youngster custody is advancing

Photo credit: Kaydens Korner

Legislation, named after a tragically murdered Pennsbury School District student, is advancing in Harrisburg.

Senate Bill 78, known as Kayden’s Law, came before the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee Monday and was elected from the committee with both party support.

Kayden was killed by her father last summer in Philadelphia during an unattended visit in 2018. Her self-killing father had made threats in the past and a Bucks County judge had authorized unattended visits. The death of a student at Edgewood Elementary School in Pennsbury in Lower Makefield Township brought local custody into the spotlight.

The bill aims to reform the child custody process by strengthening factors that judges in Pennsylvania must consider in custody and visiting decisions to add safety conditions and restrictions on custody decisions when the court finds a history of abuse or persistent risk and call on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to add an annual education and training program for judges and court officials on child abuse, negative childhood experiences, domestic violence, and its effects on children.

Last September, Kayden’s bill was unanimously elected from the Senate Judiciary Committee, but not passed by lawmakers before the 2020 term expired. Beginning this month’s new session, the bill was reintroduced by Senator Steve Santarsiero, a Democrat from the Lower Makefield Ward, and Senator Lisa Baker, a Republican serving in Lucerne, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.

Santarsiero told LevittownNow.com in a phone interview on Monday that he was confident the Senate bill would receive bipartisan support and draw on House support.

“This was a win and we are by no means over the finish line,” said Santarsiero. “This comes first for the health and safety of the child first.”

The legislation was drafted over 14 months following discussions with Kayden’s family, families in similar situations, child abuse and custody experts, and Democrats with the assistance of Reps Tina Davis of Bristol Township and Perry Warren of Newtown Borough, the senator said.

“Our current state law did not ensure the health and safety of Kayden, which was a heartbreaking tragedy, but unfortunately not unique. Under that law, a court must consider certain critical factors to ensure that child health and safety are weighed before transferring custody of a child to any party or parties, “Baker said in a statement.

Kayden was the 647th child in a couple who were divorced or separated, murdered by one parent since 2008.

“Kayden’s death was a pointless and avoidable tragedy that shook our community, and together lawmakers can prevent others from experiencing this type of grief and loss. We need to make sure that our children’s safety is the number one concern in controversial custody battles, ”said Santarsiero.

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