When 7-year-old Kayden Mancuso’s father killed her in his Philadelphia home last year, her mother vowed to take action.
Kathryn Sherlock and her husband, Brian, met with Gov. Tom Wolf to seek support for “Kayden’s Law,” a measure that would better protect children from parents with documented histories of abusive behavior.
Now, two companion bills to do that have been introduced in the state legislature, and on Thursday, the sponsor of one of them vowed to reform a system that he said “failed Kayden.”
“We have a duty to change the law" for the safety of children, said State Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D., Bucks), speaking at a hearing of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee in Lower Makefield.
Last month Santarsiero introduced a Kayden’s Law bill in the Senate. A similar House bill was introduced Tuesday by State Rep. Tina Davis (D., Bucks) with State Rep. Perry Warren, also a Bucks County Democrat, as a lead cosponsor.
Kayden, whose parents never married, lived with her mother and stepfather in Langhorne. She was visiting her father at his Manayunk home as part of a court-approved custody arrangement in August of last year when he fatally beat her with a 35-pound dumbbell, then hanged himself.
Jeffrey Mancuso, 41, had not been violent with Kayden but had been abusive to others. Bucks County Judge Jeffrey Trauger was aware of Mancuso’s violent or aggressive behavior toward Kayden’s mother, his own mother, and other adults when he granted Mancuso unsupervised weekend visits with his daughter in May 2018.
“The courts helped the abuser, not me, not my little child,” Kathryn Sherlock told a panel of nine lawmakers at Thursday’s policy committee meeting. She spoke of how Kayden’s father, whom she left in 2012, repeatedly harassed her; how Kayden had told family members that she was afraid of her father; how Jeffrey Mancuso bit off part of a man’s ear in a South Philadelphia bar on New Year’s Day 2012; and about his suicidal ideations.
On Tuesday, on what would have been Kayden’s ninth birthday, her family protested against Trauger and the Family Court system outside the Bucks County Justice Center.
Kayden was the 647th child killed by a parental caregiver in a divorce, separation, or custody dispute in the United States since 2008, Sherlock said. Now, the number is up to 713, Sherlock said as she referenced the two children who police said were fatally shot Monday night by their mother in their Tacony home.
Under the Kayden’s Law bills, a court would have to impose “safety conditions” to protect a child, including supervised custody visits in a “therapeutic setting” in cases in which a parent has a history of abuse. The measures would broaden the definition of abuse to include threatening behavior, such as harassment and stalking. And they would recommend education and training programs about child abuse and domestic violence for judges and others involved in custody matters.
Sherlock’s family has set up Kayden’s Korner Foundation as a resource to help educate people about domestic violence and to effect judicial reform in the Family Court system.