A lifelong Manhasset resident’s fight for considerations of child safety in Family Court proceedings has reached a new level, with a bill named in her child’s memory being introduced in the state Assembly last month.
In the summer of 2016, Jacqueline Franchetti’s daughter Kyra was killed by her father at his home in Fairfax, Virginia, while on an unsupervised, court-sanctioned visit. The sleeping 2-year-old was shot twice in the back before her father set the house on fire and shot himself to death.
Franchetti, who had experienced physical and verbal abusive from Kyra’s father and left him when she became pregnant, had been embroiled in a yearslong custody dispute with him at the time. According to Franchetti, Child Protective Services had noted that Kyra’s father had anger and rage issues and “an inability to care for [Kyra].” On her website, she recounts a Family Court judge telling her that the matter at hand was “not a life or death situation.”
The experience of Kyra’s death drove Franchetti to ensure that it would never happen to another child.
“We need transparency,” Franchetti said in a recent phone interview. “We need accountability. But most importantly, we need change.”
Since then, Franchetti has founded Kyra’s Champions and the Kyra Franchetti Foundation, which are focused on pushing legislation to improve the family court system on a state and national level.
“I don’t want to see what happened to Kyra happen to someone you know or love,” Franchetti said.
In 2019, Franchetti assisted in garnering support from Long Island legislators in Congress for the passage of House Resolution 72, which calls for hearings on the practices of family courts, says that evidence of abuse can only be submitted by an approved fee-paid professional and that states should have clear standards for the professionals, among other things.
She met with U.S. Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Peter King (R-Seaford), and saw the passage of the resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives in October 2018.
In 2019, a year after the resolution passed the House, Franchetti told Kyra’s story in Albany, testifying before members of the Assembly’s Judiciary, Social Services, and Children and Families committees in a joint hearing.
Now, with support from local representatives like Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), and Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti (D-Manorhaven), the bill, titled Kyra’s Law, has been introduced by Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills). Both Sillitti and Lavine have signed on as co-sponsors.
“Tragically, countless children in New York have been injured or murdered at the hands of a parent who is seeking to cause pain and trauma to their intimate partner,” Hevesi wrote in the bill memo outlining the legislation. “Yet courts continue to discount or minimize the risks posed in cases where domestic violence is present, dismissing allegations of domestic violence or child abuse as an attempt by one parent to win custody from the other.”
Kyra’s Law would make a child’s health and safety the top priority in child custody cases, rather than a standard regarding acting in “the best interest” of the child.
“It’s something that’s common sense, but not happening in practice,” Franchetti said.
It would also mandate that judges and other officials who oversee such cases are annually trained in recognizing child abuse, family violence and trauma; directs officials to review cases based on peer-reviewed research, such as the Adverse Childhood Experiences study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and forces the court to give attention to the evidence before it, and prevent giving undue weight to claims that one parent is falsely accusing the other as a legal tactic.
The bill was introduced Feb. 16, and is currently under review by the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, which Lavine chairs.
“This is game-changing legislation that is going to protect children in child custody cases,” Franchetti said.
She encourages interested members of the North Shore community to contact officials to make Kyra’s law a reality.
“Our Family Court system is failing our children at epidemic rates,” Franchetti said. “This was an epidemic before the pandemic. Unless we legislate changes, it could be your child, or one that you know and love that could be abused or even murdered because of the failings of our court system. There is hope we can make a change. But I can’t do it alone. I need the community’s support to do this.”