Two children who were violently removed from their grandmother’s Santa Cruz home in October 2022 and placed into a court-ordered program to recant parental abuse allegations celebrated a victory last month when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill prohibiting such programs.
On Oct. 13, Maya, 16, and Sebastian Laing, 12, and their allies celebrated the passage of Senate Bill 331, aka Piqui’s Law, which prohibits California family court judges from forcing kids into so-called reunification camps and ensures that judges and those serving as expert witnesses undergo critical training on domestic violence and child custody.
The siblings had been embroiled in a custody dispute last year when they alleged that their mother was abusing them. Judge Rebecca Connelly, who oversaw their custody case, didn’t believe the siblings’ claims, so in October 2022, she ordered them into a reunification therapy program in Los Angeles. The program is part of a lucrative, unregulated industry designed to make kids recant allegations of parental abuse while yielding operators from $14,000 to $40,000 for four days of training.
Several children who have attended have said the experience left them traumatized.
Maya and Sebastian did not cooperate when transport agents arrived at their grandmother’s home to take them away on Oct. 20, 2022, so they were physically picked up and forced into a car, which Maya said caused her to suffer cuts and abrasions. They were then taken to Los Angeles to spend four days in the program, according to videos that the siblings posted in May after running away from their mother’s home and going into hiding.
Since July, Maya and Sebastian have been allowed to live with their father, but Connelly still maintains that their allegations of abuse describe events that never happened, according to a short documentary by Insider News released last week.
Meanwhile, family court judges are still ordering children into reunification camps across the U.S. and Canada. However, several states are considering legislation similar to Piqui’s Law to comply with a provision in the federal Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2022. The act promises states up to $25 million in grants if their reforms comply with national requirements.