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Slain girl’s family meets with Gov. Wolf, seeks a ‘Kayden’s Law’ to protect kids

Kayden Mancuso, 7, was fatally beaten by her father, Jeffrey Mancuso, in his Manayunk home during an August weekend visit. He then killed himself.

Kathryn Sherlock, left, speaks outside the state Capitol after meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. Her husband, Brian Sherlock, right, holds a photo of Kathryn's daughter and his stepdaughter, Kayden Mancuso.
Kathryn Sherlock, left, speaks outside the state Capitol after meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. Her husband, Brian Sherlock, right, holds a photo of Kathryn's daughter and his stepdaughter, Kayden Mancuso.Read moreLiz Navratil / Staff

HARRISBURG — Relatives of 7-year-old Kayden Mancuso, who was fatally beaten last month by her father in an apparent murder-suicide in his Philadelphia home, met Friday with Gov. Wolf to seek legislation that would better protect children from parents with documented histories of abusive behavior.

"You're dealing with kids' lives here," Kayden's mother, Kathryn Sherlock of Langhorne, said at a news conference outside the Capitol.

Sherlock, who had primary custody of Kayden, said she left the meeting hopeful that reform measures would be undertaken by the legislature early next year.

Kayden was staying with her father, Jeffrey Mancuso, 41, during one of her every-other-weekend visits at his Manayunk home the weekend of Aug. 4-5, when authorities say he killed her and then hanged himself. Her body was found Aug. 6 by her stepfather, Brian Sherlock.

The Sherlocks and other relatives met with Wolf in the governor's reception room. The family was seeking support for a "Kayden's law," which would prohibit a parent who has exhibited violent behavior from having unsupervised visits with a child in custody battles even if the parent had not previously abused the child.

Wolf's office said in an email after the meeting that the governor "thought it was important to talk directly with Kayden's family to offer his sympathy and to hear their ideas to protect children and families. Members of the governor's senior staff joined the meeting and will continue to work with the family, with advocates, and with the legislature."

In addition to mandated supervised visits with a child for a parent with a proved violent past, Kayden's family is advocating for legislation that would mandate that the abusive parent receive counseling, that a lawyer or other "skilled" representative be appointed to advocate for the child in a custody battle, that judges be mandated to incorporate recommendations by experts, such as psychologists, into their orders, and that judges receive increased training on mental-illness issues.

Similar legislative efforts have not made much headway. Melanie Blow, chief operations officer for the national Stop Abuse Campaign, which encourages states to pass Safe Child Act legislation, said such bills have been introduced without being passed in Pennsylvania, Hawaii, and Utah.

State Rep. Mark Rozzi (D., Berks) earlier this year introduced House Bill 2058, which would suspend visitation rights for an abusive parent in domestic-violence cases or allow only professionally supervised visits.

The bill remains in the Judiciary Committee and is not likely to be voted on before the legislative session ends in December.

In Kayden's case, Bucks County Court Judge Jeffrey Trauger was aware of Mancuso's violent or aggressive behavior toward Kayden's mother, Mancuso's own mother, and other adults. Examples included Mancuso punching a gym teacher in high school; an aggravated-assault conviction stemming from Jan. 1, 2012, when he bit off part of a 52-year-old man's ear in a South Philadelphia bar; and when in November 2017 Mancuso began quarreling and making aggressive moves toward Brian Sherlock.

The judge, in a May order granting Mancuso unsupervised visits, noted that Mancuso loved Kayden and had not been violent toward her.

A July 2017 report by a custody evaluator, Eric Frajerman, a licensed psychologist, noted that Kathryn Sherlock had asked for Mancuso to have supervised visits every other weekend. But he also noted that he found it "confusing" that Sherlock had previously allowed Mancuso to watch Kayden unsupervised.

Frajerman noted that although Kayden had witnessed her father getting into fights with his mother, punching a family dog, and hitting himself in the face, and although he had screamed at her, she wanted to spend time with him but not for "too long" because of the violence she had witnessed.

He did not suggest to the judge that Mancuso's time with Kayden be supervised but noted that his recommendation was contingent on Mancuso's obtaining mental-health treatment.

The judge, in his May order, encouraged Mancuso to immediately seek psychological care. According to Kayden's mother's family, Mancuso refused to seek treatment.