On October 20th, a group of strangers visited Maya and Sebastian Laing’s grandmother’s house where they were staying late at night.
After unsuccessfully trying to persuade the children to come with them willingly, the stranger kicked and screamed at them and carried them to the waiting car. They were taken to an undisclosed location in Los Angeles, 350 miles away.
Fifteen-year-old Maya knew this was going to happen and had told some friends to get the phone ready. They showed up in groups and brought their families and neighbors with them.
One of them took a video detailing the stranger’s actions that got over 100,000 views before YouTube took it down. He is still present on Instagram at bit.ly/3NB3Uww and bit.ly/3WyYiay. Please note that the content contains spoilers.
The Stranger is a “transporter” for Assisted Interventions, Inc., a New Jersey-based private contracting firm that is carrying out court orders to move children in controversial custody disputes.
Maya and Sebastian’s situation is nothing special. These children are often taken to “reunion camps” where the parents on the other side of the conflict wait with counselors and other employees tasked with repairing the relationship.
A few days before the event, Maya took to her Instagram account to tell her followers that she didn’t want to live with her mother (bit.ly/3UmGE7J and bit.ly/3hbQcnK).
A video of Maya and Sebastian has brought the amazing phenomenon into the public eye. It allows hurt, so-called “alienated” parents to separate their children against their will, with the full consent of the court.
The video shows a man carrying a struggling 11-year-old Sebastian from behind. Following it, two men carry Maya. One grabs Maya’s leg, another grabs him by his arm, and Maya screams that she’s been kidnapped. Witnesses say her clothes partially fell off, her hair was stepped on, and her face was slammed into her car door during the struggle.
All of this was done while two Santa Cruz Police Department officers were standing. However, Santa said that what was done in the video was not illegal, said Cruise Police Deputy Chief John Bush.
He said the carrier was duly authorized to take Maya and Sebastian, and was doing so under the order of Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Rebecca Connolly.
“This order allowed this contract shipping company to physically own the children and transport them to locations in Southern California,” Bush said.
He stresses that the officers were not there specifically to assist the transporters. Instead, they were called to the scene to report the disturbance.
Once there, they say their job was only to keep the peace.
Assisted Interventions, Inc.’s website states that the company’s goal is for children to arrive at treatment facilities with a “positive attitude” and that it was founded “on the principles of dignity, compassion and safety.” .
As of Friday morning, the company did not respond to a request for comment.
At a press conference Thursday, Santa Cruz Mayor Sonya Brunner and Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonaty called for action to prevent businesses from violently removing children from their homes in the county. swore to
“We regulate taxis and many other types of services, so this will be another business we want to make sure is being run in line with our values,” Coonerty said. has said.
Although the court system is outside the jurisdiction of counties, local ordinances that set standards for the treatment of minors may give law enforcement officers more authority to intervene in similar situations.
Coonati also said the county will encourage state legislators to pass policies to regulate these businesses.
Kirsten Dungey, 16, who has known Maya for two years and attended Pacific Collegiate School with Maya, insists that any policy passed by local leaders has a “no-touch policy” against private transportation companies. would like to be included.
“This is to ensure that children who have been court-ordered to be sent to reunification camps are treated as human beings during their travels,” she said.
The children’s mother, Jessica Raine, referred the call to her attorney for comment, but the attorney declined to speak to the record.
Father Justin Laing declined to discuss the details of the lawsuit.
“What happened to them is not OK,” Justin wrote. “I will pursue all legal avenues to make this right for them.”
Tina Swithin, an internationally renowned blogger advocating for changes to the family court system, describes the industry surrounding reunion centers as “something like science fiction”.
“I know parents who have not seen their children in the two years since they were taken to these camps. Because they make a lot of money from these things,” she says.
And it’s a lucrative business. Policy at the National Center for Family Violence Law at George Washington University His manager, Daniel Pollack, says the “reunion treatment” he does once a day could cost him as much as $10,000. increase.
This idea derives from “parental alienation,” which was first defined in the 1980s as the concept of one parent engaging in a behavioral system designed to keep the other parent away from the child. This includes denigrating that parent to their children or preventing other parents from seeing their children completely. It can also occur from children who have stopped communicating.
Often, in such cases, the court will try to hire a counselor to seek amicable family resolution.
But parents can also weaponize this concept. Use it as a counter-argument when your ex-spouse accuses them of abuse, saying that the other person is just being vindictive and angry and trying to get you away from the kids.
In these cases, children are taken to reunification camps. It’s a catchall phrase that includes hotels, nature retreats, or, in Maya and Sebastian’s case, the home of Los Angeles-based psychologist Lynn Steinberg.
Children are usually restricted from contact with anyone for at least 90 days, Swithin says.
“They are not allowed to reach out to anyone,” says Swithin. “This is part of what makes it so difficult to understand if they can do this.”
Steinberg did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
Pollack says this strategy often works. A mother who accuses abuse has more than an 80% chance of losing her lawsuit and losing custody if her husband claims parental alienation.
“This is an effective legal strategy,” she says. “It really undermines the credibility of the person claiming abuse.”
Pollack describes the concept of parental alienation as “a crap science,” which nevertheless gained legitimacy in court hearings since purported alienation experts testified at hearings. doing.
“One of the reasons it’s so effective is that there’s a large cottage industry that serves accused abusers,” she says. “They come and testify as ‘alienation experts’ as if their junk science theory is scientific, valid and diagnosable. Hmm.”
Pollack says perhaps the scariest aspect of the industry is that it is largely unregulated. Pollack says they don’t need the licenses required for psychological or counseling services because they are considered “educational.”
“Every valid territory has a licensing board,” she says. “But these guys avoid it.”
Once in camps (where the stay can last from a few days to several months), children are forced to spend time with parents who refuse to contact them. Pollack says children are also forced to interact with “reunion counselors” who try to convince them that the abuse they claim did not occur.
She says children in the camp are forbidden to talk about their past or their parents’ divorce.
Similarly, there are places where parents are prohibited from discussing incidents with their children. Some also have employees, called “green shirts,” sit between their parents and change the subject if such a conversation arises, Pollack says.
A minor’s desire to stay with one parent is often not factored into a judge’s ruling, Pollack says.
“It hardly matters,” she says.
Part of that, she says, is due to who will represent the children in court.
Children usually Guardian advertising item— also known as “best interest lawyers” — give their opinion on what’s best for them.
This was often intended to protect children from the traumatic process, but since parents must consider all the facts of the incident, it usually represents what children want. not.
“So the children’s voices of the last 20 years have fallen out of the process in many ways,” Pollack says.
The fact that what happened was legal is no comfort to those who knew children and saw them being taken against their will.
“We want people to know what’s going on,” says Dungy.
Dungey helped organize a candlelight rally on October 27, which drew about 50 people, and the next day, a protest was held in front of the Watsonville County Courthouse, where family court was being held.
She also put herself between the transporter and Maya to stop them before a police officer told her to stop interfering.
“We want reunion camp to end because no one has to go through what Maya and Sebastian and all the other kids went through,” says Dungey.
Friends who attended the Candlelight Gathering described Maya as a quiet, bright, friendly, selfless and thoughtful girl. Her friends said she was adventurous and athletic, played volleyball, participated in theater and was a student union leader.
Sebastian is a smart and funny boy who hopes to attend Pacific College Eight School next year with his younger sister.
A family friend, Matt Berlin, said the children’s father didn’t know where they were.
“He doesn’t know if they’re safe, he’s never seen a picture of them, he doesn’t know the condition of his children, and he’s heartbroken,” Berlin says.
Berlin said his friend was a “great parent.”
“He’s one of the best fathers I’ve ever met in my life,” he says. “He loves his children very much. He would do anything for them.”