Port Washington Teens Advocate for a Toddler: Prevent Child Abuse in Custody Cases

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Blue windmills depicting children lost to child abuse in New York City have been planted in front of the lawn of the Parent Resource Center in Port Washington. (Photo by Jennifer Corr)

Shayna Blumenfeld, fourteen, of Port Washington, from her home, appeared virtually before Governor Kathy Hochul’s Blue Ribbon Commission on custody assessors, expressing the importance of making child safety the top priority in cases of custody. custody case.

Shayna is a young ambassador for Kyra’s Champions, an organization that works to pass laws to protect children in child custody cases that could protect children like Kyra Franchetti, a 2-year-old girl from Manhasset who died in a tragic murder-suicide by his father. in 2016.

The organization’s founder, Jacqueline Franchetti, had repeatedly argued before the New York Family Court System for sole custody, but she was ignored. To prevent such a tragedy from happening again, Kyra’s Champions advocates for a set of laws included in Kyra’s laws. Facets of Kyra’s law include making child safety the top priority in custody and divorce cases, an action passed in 2018, and the creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Forensic Assessors which is working to explore the role of forensic assessors in child custody cases. Pending laws include established guidelines for supervised visits and training for forensic child custody assessors.

“I am 14 years old and I am here to be the voice of all the children that our family justice system is currently failing; the children who have no voice and the children who are not with us today, ”Shayna told the commission during the public hearing on September 9. “You might think I’m too young to have a say. After all, what could I know? I’m 14 years old. Well I know some things.

Shayna went on to say that she knew the court system was betraying her friends, including Franchetti, a grieving mother. She also knows that child safety should be the number one priority in child custody cases, something child advocates like Shayna and Franchetti argue is often overlooked.

“So let’s talk numbers,” Shayna said. “Eighty-seven. In New York State, we have an 87% higher rate of child abuse than the rest of the country. Six. The maximum number of hours of training it takes in the New York State to determine a child’s fate. It’s less than a day of school. Five. The number of children who have died today as a result of child abuse. Two. The number. birthdays these children can celebrate before they die of abuse, 80 percent of which will be murdered by their own mother or father – one, the number of people it takes to make the change.

Kyra, Shayna said, was a 2-year-old murdered by her own father in a child custody case on Long Island.

“The forensic assessor in Kyra’s case rejected all allegations of domestic violence, even though Kyra’s mother pointed out that her father was dangerous,” Shayna said. “They even dismissed the fact that Kyra’s father had just bought two guns, one of which was the very weapon used to kill little Kyra. And yet, the forensic assessor still recommended shared custody. How is it possible?”

Had the forensic assessor in the case received more thorough and effective training, he could have acted appropriately when presenting the red flags in this case, she argued.

“Let’s go back to that number I said before, 87,” Shayna said. “In New York State, we have an 87% higher rate of child abuse than the rest of the country. So what should be done? What bothered me the most about Kyra’s untimely death? I am only 14 years old and even I can understand that the answer to these two questions is training. The safety of children must come first and remain at the heart of every decision made about their care. End of the conversation.”

In recent years, at least 743 children have been murdered in New York City. Shayna and her friends, to honor their memories, planted 743 blue windmills in Port Washington. And the worst part, Shayna said, is that more windmills will be added when they replant them next year.

But right now, despite these numbers, the focus on child safety is being overlooked as in upstate New York, no hours of training are required to make a “life decision. or death, ”Shayna said, on behalf of a child in a custody case. . Downstate requires six hours of training. “I would undergo more hours of training to work at a fast food restaurant or to work as a cashier in my local supermarket than a forensic assessor would to determine the fate of a child,” Shayna said.

Franchetti said she was proud of Shayna and that her testimony had an impact on those who heard her.

“She was the only minor speaking and she had everyone’s heart, mind and soul by the way she spoke,” Franchetti said. “She was incredibly articulate and incredibly persuasive and I hope she motivated everyone to act on what she said.”

It was through the advocacy of Franchetti and those who support her like Shayna that the Blue Ribbon Commission on Custody Assessors was launched. “These are mental health professionals who are used very frequently in childcare matters, especially in our region, and they pose a lot of problems,” Franchetti said, referring to the issues Shayna touched on during the presentation. his testimony. “At the hearing [on Sept. 9] were a lot of relatives.

Not a person, moreover, of the [approximately] 20 people who spoke were in favor of using forensic assessors because they lack the right skills, the right training and they make mistakes. “

Domestic violence and child advocates, Franchetti noted, should conduct the reports used in child custody cases, where appropriate.

“I’m going to use my case with Kyra as an example: we would have been much better off going to trial,” Franchetti said. “A lot of these things are based on facts. The abuse was reportedly revealed at trial. And what abusers are really good at doing is taking these forensic assessments and throwing away lies and here-sayings and things that didn’t even happen and throwing them into these reports.

When asked how it felt to finally be able to tell her daughter’s story after years of advocacy before federal, state and local officials, a tearful Franchetti said she wished she hadn’t. to tell the story at all.

To learn more about Kyra’s Champions, visit kyraschampions.org. To learn more about the Blue Ribbon Commission on Forensic Custody, visit ocfs.ny.gov/main/news/article.php?idx=2247.


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