Jacqueline Franchetti remembers her 2-year-old daughter Kyra’s favorite things. Kyra liked to “go fast” down the slide, and she liked Mickey Mouse, bubbles and independence. “Everything was, ‘I do it, Mama,’” Franchetti says.
Franchetti doesn’t know what Kyra would like today. That’s because in 2016 Kyra was murdered by her father who shot her in the back twice, then doused his home in gasoline and set it on fire, killing himself in a murder-suicide.
Kyra would have turned 7 this year. “I miss her every single second of every day,” Franchetti says. “When I go to visit her grave, I don’t even know what to bring or leave behind. What do 7-year-old girls like?”
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No Escape from Abuse
Franchetti did everything legally possible to keep Kyra safe from the day she was born. Franchetti had left the relationship with Kyra’s abusive father, but she allowed him to visit her and Kyra in the hospital. He was angry, and Jaqueline was so fearful for Kyra’s safety that she got out of bed with Kyra in her arms, even though she was recovering from a C-section.
When the nurse came to escort Franchetti back into bed, she gave Kyra to the nurse. “I said, ‘Please take her to the nursery’ because I was scared of what would happen to her.” Franchetti had to threaten to call security before her former partner would leave.
Franchetti was served with papers when Kyra was a few weeks old, and her case continued in family court until Kyra was murdered. “The first time I entered Nassau County Family Court, I thought Kyra would be protected. I quickly learned our courts do not protect the children; they protect the abuser. Kyra’s entire life, we were in family court,” she says. “When you end up in family court, the abuse doesn’t stop.”
A judge, Child Protective Services staff, a forensic evaluator and a lawyer for Kyra were involved in the case. Still, they couldn’t help Kyra. Despite reports of abuse, the forensic evaluator recommended joint custody. “He felt that a father should always play a role in a child’s life. Well, Kyra’s father did play a major role in her life. He murdered her,” Franchetti says.
At the last court hearing, weeks before Kyra was murdered, Franchetti shared more details and reported that she was terrified of her former partner. The judge told her it was not a life-or-death situation. “She was wrong. And now Kyra’s gone,” she says.
Now, Franchetti is working to change the system so other children aren’t abused, harmed or killed by a parent like Kyra was. “What happened to Kyra is not an isolated incident,” she says.
How Laws Are Changing
Franchetti says that each year, 58,000 children are court-ordered into the home of a parent who is physically, sexually, or mentally abusing them. However, most child custody or divorce cases get resolved outside of court. “Only about 3 percent of cases end up in family court.” But she says most of these cases involve either family violence or child abuse.
“Court officials are treating these as healthy, or as what I refer to as ‘sad-and-mad’ cases, not dangerous ones. And the vast majority of these are dangerous cases, and need to be treated as such,” she says. “Sad-and-mad cases get settled outside of court.”
On the federal level, a congressional resolution passed in 2018. The resolution asks states to:
- Make child safety the top priority in custody cases
- Make sure professionals involved are properly skilled and trained
- Use the best available research to support decisions
Franchetti is working to get three bills passed in her home state of New York. The first, Kyra’s Law, would make the health and safety of the child the top priority in custody cases. “Children need to be going into safe homes,” she says.
It would also allow for an evidentiary hearing, similar to the way evidence is presented for restraining orders. That’s critical because evidence needs to be evaluated quickly. Franchetti would have been able to bring evidence to trial in October 2016, but Kyra was killed three months earlier.
The bill would also require abuse of the partner, not just the child, to be considered. “We know there’s an extremely high correlation between someone who abuses their partner and abusing their child, but the courts don’t factor that in. So, Kyra’s Law will make the courts look at that,” Franchetti says. If abuse is happening, the non-offending parent will get sole custody and the abuser will be responsible for legal fees. The bill also requires judges to be trained in intimate partner violence, child abuse, and trauma.
“Kyra’s law is a wonderful bill that embraces common sense and will make things so much better for parents, But more importantly, it’s going to help protect the child. We need this in every state,” Franchetti says.
The second bill requires training for forensic evaluators, and the third bill is focused on supervised visits and provides sole custody to a parent if a judge concludes the other parent is abusive toward the child.
Reform Takes Time
It may seem as though reform is happening slowly. Franchetti says that’s because it takes time to do it right. “We want to make sure there aren’t any unintended consequences,” she says. “We want to make sure these bills pass, and that they protect children.”
Advocates are navigating antiquated laws and outdated practices. “We’ve been working diligently to put out bills that protect children from abusers in the proper way,” she says. That requires a lot of research, and a lot of thought from experts and law practitioners.
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“I’m really happy with where the bills are. Hope really is on the horizon,” Franchetti says.
How You Can Help
If you live in New York state and you would like to help, you can automatically email your legislators from the website Franchetti set up to support legislative change, Kyra’s Champions. “It takes 15 seconds,” Franchetti says. “Some offices have gotten hundreds of emails already about this, and it really makes a huge difference.” If you live outside of New York state, you can sign the Change.org petition.
Family courts are controlled by the states, so most of the work for change is happening at the state level. Franchetti says the 2018 congressional resolution has spurred more states to review their laws regarding child custody cases and domestic violence.
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