The “success” of forced reunification
Judge Gorcyca shocked the world when she berated the Tsimhoni children (ages 9, 10, and 14), compared them to the disciples of Charles Manson, and sent them to juvenile detention for refusing to see their father who they claim is abusive. As the public attention span dwindled, Gorcyca placed a gag order on the parties involved and ordered the children to “reunification therapy” using a questionable protocol conducted by an uncertified individual (as I discussed in this article). Media proclaimed that the children were “successfully reunited” with their father, but evidence now exists that shows that nothing could be further from the truth.
According to the redacted exhibits offered to support the recent motions filed by the mother, Maya Tsimhoni, the children were severely distraught when taken to fulfill the “reunification therapy” protocol. When informed that their father was there to meet them, their response was “obvious signs of outward emotional distress i.e. crying, dry heaving, balling into the corner etc.” The young daughter was so inconsolable that she was removed from her siblings until she fell asleep on the floor.
Since then, according to the aforementioned document, the children have been described as “depressed, frightened, ill, [redacted], exhausted, despondent, tearful, struggling in school, absent often from school, and missing their mother, their pets, and their real home.” School personnel contacted Child Protective Services in response to the children’s present distress and reports of fear to go home with their father. The children continue to report that they are afraid and to assert their desire to live with their mother. One therapist reports that the children continue to insist that their father is “an unpredictable violent man” and “will not change.”
The social worker tasked with working with the children during the 90 day (now much longer) “protective separation” from their mother required by the controversial “therapy” has only been allowed to meet with them once. A new therapist, whose name has been redacted from the document, has never met with the mother and was approved only by the father in direct noncompliance with the court order. This therapist has recommended that 14-year-old Liam be placed in wilderness camp and 9-year-old Natalie be placed in foster care (as opposed to with either her father or the mother with whom she thrived). According to the document: “Dr. B [redacted] uses ‘techniques’ that include denigrating the mother, insulting the children, and repeated threats.”
The prospect of the children being separated with one being placed in foster care clearly belies all claims of “successful reunification.” Furthermore, if the children are presently being subjected to the aforementioned “techniques,” the questionable “reunification therapy” protocol could more properly be referred to as threat therapy (a term sometimes used by domestic violence advocates against this practice).
If Judge Gorcyca was trying to create the most stress possible, it is hard to imagine anything more she could do than jailing the children, forcing them to live with a father they believe is abusive and sending them for fraudulent treatment.
The children’s declining condition and forced placement in such obviously traumatic circumstances is not entirely uncommon and comes as no surprise to domestic violence advocates such as Domestic Violence Author and Expert Barry Goldstein. When asked about this case, Goldstein commented:
“An important study released by the US Justice Department called The Saunders Study referred to the extreme circumstances such as these as ‘harmful outcome’ cases. This is because the harm of separating children from their primary attachment figure is greater than any benefit the court thought it was creating. Unfortunately, Judge Gorcyca has imposed draconian remedies without any knowledge of current research. If Judge Gorcyca was trying to create the most stress possible, it is hard to imagine anything more she could do than jailing the children, forcing them to live with a father they believe is abusive and sending them for fraudulent treatment. The judge seems to have lost all objectivity or consideration of the enormous harm she is causing the children in order to justify her many mistakes in this case and use of standard outdated and discredited court practices that were created before current scientific research was available.”
One of the outdated practices to which Goldstein refers is the controversial diagnosis of Parental Alienation Syndrome which is predicated on the belief that children can be “brainwashed” by one parent to hate an otherwise stand-up parent. The proposed remedy is to remove the child from the parent they want to be with and place them with the parent they fear and reject. The American Psychological Association has not accepted so-called Parental Alienation, but judges are still using it to make custody decisions and order forced “reunification” with parents against whom children allege abuse. The American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and The National District Attorneys Association have advised against giving credence to “parental alienation” claims in court because of the danger they pose to victims of domestic violence.
According to Dr. Joyanna Silberg, a forensic psychologist who received a Department of Justice Grant to study the problem of children being placed with abusers, “In my own in-depth study of children sent to live with abusive parents based on a data set of over 50 cases, I discovered that professionals routinely ignore evidence of domestic violence and child abuse in custody cases misinterpreting the information as a ‘custody strategy.’ In my sample, children spent an average of four years in the care of an abusive parent and suffered physical and emotional effects that will take a lifetime to recover from.”
Placing the children with their father has clearly proven harmful and distressing to them, as has the coercive “therapy” to which the children were subjected. As Domestic Violence (DV) Scholar and Lawyer Joan Zorza wrote in a chapter entitled “Batterer Manipulation and Retaliation Compounded by Denial and Complicity in the Family Courts” in the book Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody, “courts often make mistakes that place the lives and safety of protective mothers and their children in jeopardy. In this context, it is important for courts that rule against alleged victims of DV to be open to the possibility that they made a mistake.” Given that Judge Gorcyca has refused to recuse herself from the case and denied allegations of bias, she is obligated to evaluate her earlier course of action and take steps to restore the children’s well-being immediately.
Activist and Writer
Hope hold a Bachelor’s of International Affairs from the University of Nevada, Reno.