BUCKS COUNTY >> The State Senate on June 24 passed landmark legislation that supports say will save children’s lives.
Senate Bill 78, also known as Kayden’s Law, is legislation that will provide urgently needed reform to Pennsylvania’s child custody statute.
Kayden Mancuso, in whose memory the bill was named, was a seven-year-old from Lower Makefield Township. In August 2018, her biological father brutally murdered her during an unsupervised weekend visit.
The visit had been ordered by the court in the custody case between the father and Kayden’s mom, Kathy Sherlock, despite evidence of abusive and violent behavior by the father.
Senate Bill 78 is a bi-partisan effort by Senators Lisa Baker (R-20) and Steve Santarsiero (D-10), who serve as the Republican and Democratic chairs, respectively, of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The legislation would help protect children by making their safety and welfare the principle focus in any custody dispute. It does that by imposing safety conditions and restrictions on visitation in cases of abuse; modifying the factors that a judge must consider in making a custody award to put the focus on the health and safety of the child; and recommending better training of all court personnel involved in custody cases.
“Too many terrible tragedies are explained away with the unacceptable excuse that no system can protect everyone or anticipate the actions of individuals intent on violence,” said Sen. Baker. “Our responsibility in protecting children is to take every reasonable step available to keep them from harm’s way and prevent a repetition of what happened to Kayden. Without this change in the law, the system would remain tilted to the detriment of the interests and safety of at-risk children.”
“Make no mistake, if signed into law, Senate Bill 78 will save children’s lives,” said Sen. Santarsiero. “No child in Pennsylvania should ever be left alone with an abuser, period. Kayden’s Law will help ensure that that never happens again,” he added.
The vote in the Senate is an important step in the process of getting the bill to the governor’s desk, according to Santarsiero, who acknowledged everyone who has helped get it to this point.
“I want to thank my friend and colleague, Senator Lisa Baker, for her leadership and for making this bill a priority of the committee this session. I also want to thank my House colleagues, Representatives Tina Davis (D-141) and Perry Warren (D-31) for their work on this issue as well as all of the advocates who have weighed in on the many drafts of the legislation.
"But the greatest credit must go to Kathy Sherlock and the rest of Kayden’s family. Kathy has been a tireless advocate for the children of our state. Her strength and dedication to this cause has inspired me time and again not to give up.”
“We have been working so hard for years now to see this day for justice for Kayden and for all the kids who are put in harms way by family courts every single day,” said Kathy Sherlock, Kayden’s mom. “Kayden’s Law could have saved my daughter if it had been in place in 2018. Let’s hope it helps other children suffering and at risk right now.”
Senate Bill 78 now moves to the State House for consideration.