Senator Santarsiero Announces Kayden’s Law Unanimously Voted Out of Senate Judiciary Committee

HARRISBURG – September 22, 2020 – Earlier today, Senate Bill 868 (Kayden’s Law), a bill that would revamp the state’s child custody laws, was unanimously voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Sponsored by Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-10), Kayden’s Law is named for Kayden Mancuso, a seven-year-old from Lower Makefield Township, who was killed in August of 2018 by her biological father during a court-ordered, unsupervised visit granted following a year-long custody dispute.

“Never again.  That should be our vow as lawmakers.  Never again should one of our children die or be abused because Pennsylvania law does not do enough to protect them. The tragedy of Kayden Mancuso’s death demonstrates that the current child custody law does not in fact do enough,” said Sen. Santarsiero.  “For nearly two years now, I have been working with Representatives Tina Davis (D-141) and Perry Warren (D-31), the sponsors of the legislation in the House, as well as with Kayden’s family and experts in the field of child abuse and child custody issues, to craft legislation that would make a fundamental change to Pennsylvania’s child custody law to make it forever clear that the safety of our children is the most important concern.  I am grateful to Chairwoman Baker for bringing up the bill in committee and to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for unanimously voting to move it to the floor of the Senate,” Santarsiero added.

“Children should be our number one priority. Their safety should be their number one priority,” said Kathy Sherlock, mother of Kayden Mancuso. “Parental rights supersede children’s rights in our courts, and that’s backwards.  We’re hoping that Pennsylvania leads in something we so desperately need.”

The changes proposed in Kayden’s Law will strengthen the current factors that judges consider to decide custody decisions and emphasize which party would ensure the health and safety of the child, and ensure that if there is a finding by the court of a history of abuse or an ongoing risk of abuse, that any custody order includes safety conditions and restrictions necessary to protect the child.  The bill would also encourage the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to implement an annual educational and training program for judges and relevant court personnel on child abuse, adverse childhood experiences, domestic violence, and its impact on children.

In October 2019, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing on Kayden’s Law in Lower Makefield Township, during which testimony was heard from advocates and stakeholders on the need for changes to the existing law. 

Santarsiero continued, “In the months since that hearing, I have been working with Kayden’s family and advocates from across the Commonwealth to fine-tune the bill’s language.  The bill that was voted favorably out of committee today represents feedback from experts who work in our family court system every day, to ensure no family has to experience the same horror as Kayden’s family.”

“The safety of our children is paramount. Kayden’s Law will ensure that the best interest of the child is the top priority in judicial child custody and visitation decisions,” said Rep. Warren.  “The Senate Judiciary Committee’s unanimous vote is a critical step forward in making this lifesaving bill become law. Thank you to Kathy Sherlock for her courage and to Sen. Santarsiero. Rep. Tina Davis and I join the Senator in introducing and advocating for Kayden’s Law in the House.”

“I applaud the Senate Judiciary Committee in moving Kayden’s Law forward today,” said Rep. Davis.  “This is a great first step towards protecting children by ensuring the courts look at the warning signs of abuse and neglect in child custody cases.  My colleagues and I will fight to continue moving this legislation forward and into a law that will save lives and prevent another Kayden Mancuso tragedy.” 

“We heard from over 1,400 Pennsylvanians, from all across the Commonwealth, about the importance of the Senate Judiciary Committee considering Kayden’s Law,” said Sen. Santarsiero.  “I am pleased to see the committee vote in favor of the bill today. It’s one step in the process, but it’s an important step in changing the law to save children’s lives.”