Kayden's Law passes PA Senate

By LYLE T. GALLOWAY
Posted 7/21/21

HARRISBURG, PA — Kayden Mancuso was a 7-year-old girl from Lower Makefield Township whose life was taken too soon. A bipartisan initiative was taken up in the Pennsylvania Senate to ensure that other children will not meet the same fate.

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Kayden's Law passes PA Senate

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HARRISBURG, PA — Kayden Mancuso was a 7-year-old girl from Lower Makefield Township whose life was taken too soon. A bipartisan initiative was taken up in the Pennsylvania Senate to ensure that other children will not meet the same fate.

Senate Bill 78, known as Kayden’s Law, passed on June 24.

The bill hopes to amend Titles 23 and 42 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes in child custody; it will ensure that the child’s safety and wellbeing will be the top priority in custody disputes. Safety conditions and certain restrictions will be put on visitation if there is any prior history of abuse. Judges and court personnel will also receive training to better recognize these signs and make informed decisions.

In August of 2018, Mancuso’s body was discovered in the home of Jeffrey Mancuso, her biological father, in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia. She was murdered by her father, who later took his own life. The act was committed during an unsupervised weekend visit. The visit was ordered by the court in a custody case between Mancuso and Kayden’s mother, Kathy Sherlock. Family members had expressed concern over Kayden feeling unsafe with her father.

Sen. Lisa Baker of District 20 was the prime sponsor of the bill. She began working with Sen. Steve Santarsiero about a year ago. He asked her to work with him to sponsor the measure.

Baker said that she first heard about the case about a year and a half ago when the bill came out of the committee. “We heard from Kayden’s mom during a committee meeting; she appeared via Zoom and talked to us about the importance of the bill and shared the story of her beloved daughter,” said Baker.

One of the reasons Baker chose to sponsor the bill was her prolonged interest in issues concerning child welfare.

“As I listened and learned about Kayden and the experience the family had during this unsupervised court-ordered overnight custody, it just brought to me the need for us to look at strengthening the way family court judges consider when they’re deciding these very difficult custody matters,” said Baker. “I think the most important part in these custody cases is the protection and health and safety of the child.”

Upon hearing that the bill passed, Baker recalled something that Kayden’s mother said in a then-recent interview. “She said that ‘I hope that things will change... I think that’s the only thing that keeps me going,’” said Baker. “I was really pleased to be a part of this bipartisan effort.”

Baker’s predecessor, Charles Lemmond, was a family court judge. He stressed the difficulty of custody battles. Baker expressed hope that the bill will strike a balance between family matters and the wellbeing of the child.

At least 20 other states and the District of Columbia have some type of litigation dealing with past acts of abuse and awarding of child custody.

As a practicing family lawyer and solicitor for Wayne County Children and Youth Services (CYS), Chris Rechner was also pleased to find out about the bill, “The mission of CYS is to always be concerned with the wellbeing of children and protect them when that becomes necessary,” said Rechner.

According to her, a law has been on the books since at least 2010 that requires communication between CYS personnel and the courts. For Wayne County, correspondence between both organizations has already existed. They work with the court, the president judge and the county commissioners.

“Wayne County being a smaller county, we have an excellent relationship between our court system and CYS... I think they have an excellent rapport and whatever the court needs CYS works with them on,” she said.

She mentioned that the bill will significantly help larger counties in Pennsylvania, due to the number of staff members on the courts and protective services.

Senate Bill 78 is currently awaiting consideration from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

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