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The Custody Scam

Most scams, such as sub-prime mortgages and email scams, victimize adults. But custody scams victimize children. When government fails to protect children it throws open the doors to private contractors—lawyers and clinicians—who enrich themselves at the expense of children. (More about this child and the mother who tried to protect her appears below.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

In Honor of Jared J. Dussault (1998 - 2015)

Jared, suffering the effects of toxic mold, with
his brother, sister, and mom, Kelli Kellum Dussault.
Last year I researched and wrote this paragraph about Jared Dussault’s extended family without identifying them in the Providence Journal (May 3, 2014, p. A-13):
Brown Professor Ross Cheit’s book, The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children, shows how a widespread belief that children lie led courts and media to overlook significant evidence of sexual abuse. ….  
When a culture of child sex abuse persists within a family over several generations, that family often has its own narrative, such as one I heard recently: ‘If incest was good enough for God to populate the earth from one couple, then it’s good enough for us.’ The judge had no way of knowing the family narrative when he ordered those children to have frequent visits with a father they dread.
When Jared ended his life on August 16th at the age of 17, his mother, Kelli Kellum Dussault, asked me to honor him by telling the truth about his childhood. His “Sexual Abuse Assessment,” done nine years ago by the Shepherd Program at St. Mary’s Home for Children in Rhode Island (June 15, 2006), tells how Kelli, as a child, had reported her own “extensive history of sexual abuse in her family. She stated that she was abused by her maternal grandfather from 4 – 13 years of age” (p. 5). When she revealed this at 13, and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families got involved, her family condemned her. She said her brother told her to “get over it.” Years later, her son, Jared, reported being sexually abused, along with other children, by that uncle, Kelli’s brother.
Kelli’s maternal grandfather is dead, and to my knowledge, no one in the family has been prosecuted for child sex abuse. But she reports horrifying family “secrets” and stories of foster children trying to run away from her grandparents’ home.
Jared’s 2006 sexual abuse report shows he expressed a death wish by the age of 8, when alleging physical abuse by his father (p. 9). His father and the court’s guardian ad litem stopped the boy from talking with a therapist whom Jared liked and wanted to see (p. 10). His father continued exposing the boy to his uncle and his maternal grandparents, who “are reportedly buying Mr. Dussault and his girlfriend a house” (p. 6), while Mr. Dussault was “assisting Uncle Ricky’s defense against Jared’s allegations of sexual abuse” (p. 11).
The clinician’s report concludes: 
Jared is aware that some people in his family, such as his father and maternal grandparents, have not believed him and even asked him to recant his disclosures…. Jared needs to be believed by everyone in his life, in order to move forward and begin his healing journey. Without the support of family, survivors are often unable to make progress in their sexual abuse treatment. Without individual sexual abuse specific treatment, Jared may continue to keep his memories inside, and internalize the blame and responsibility for his abuse…. (p. 25)
After her divorce, Kelli succeeded in getting her three children away from the extended family that believed incest was “in the Bible” and condoned child sex abuse. But they again encountered severe problems with mold that especially afflicted Jared. He had suffered from mold as an infant in their earliest home in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, “which led to chronic throat and ear infections for Jared” (p. 3).
She moved the children to Florida, where mold exacerbated Jared’s mood swings, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Kelli is now part of a large community of Facebook friends who have spread warnings against toxic mold. Many have shared the new movie “Moldy,” dedicating it to Jared.
Children who struggle with closeted memories and chronic illness, may see no way out. At least twice, Jared tried to end his life. In 2012, when he was 14, he tried to overdose on Xanax, Tylenol PM, and Benadryl and left a suicide note: “I’m sorry to all of you…. Mom, I am going to miss you the most. After all you’ve done for me.… If I hadn’t had such a great family that loves me this day would have come much sooner….” Kelli told the medical staff that she had “located what looked like a noose” made from shoestrings in Jared’s closet several weeks earlier (Assessment Summary in Jared’s medical report at NCH, Naples, Florida, Dec. 7, 2012). This month, suffering extreme physical distress, he returned to the closet and hung himself.
His father’s reaction to Jared’s death has reprised the earliest years of their relationship. Jared told a clinician at age 8: “I have many problems. My biggest problem is with my Dad” (p. 12). He told another clinician that his father "constantly yells" at him and he longed never to see his father again.
From 1,500 miles away, his father has now blamed Kelli for Jared’s death. He has not seen his children in years, but he refuses to sign the papers for Jared to be buried in Florida, near his mother, brother, and sister -- the family that always loved him. 
Not signing the papers. Kelli says it is exactly what Jared’s father did to stop the St. Mary’s therapist from talking to prosecutors years ago.
State lawmakers, prosecutors, courts, and child protection agencies must finally end the widespread denial of what happened to Jared and others like him. We must stop giving abusers unlimited power over their victims. We must enact and enforce laws to end child sex abuse within the family.

The Shepherd Program maintains strict ethical standards and confidentiality. They will not confirm or deny that Jared was their client. I secured this report from a family member.  If I have made any mistakes in this account, please send corrections and documents to ParentingProject [at] 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fix DCYF, Stop Family Law Malpractice

It is great to have a sitting governor finally acknowledge the dysfunction at Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), as Governor Gina Raimondo has done. But the executive branch that oversees DCYF is only half the crisis. 

We need the judicial branch to end the kinds of family law malpractice that take financial advantage of this dysfunction. 

Here are a few examples we have documented over the years, starting with a current one:

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Testimony on the Racket of "Parental Alienation" in the Rhode Island Family Court

Last night I testified before the Judicial Nominating Commission against a lawyer seeking to become a Family Court judge. I am posting that testimony here with linked documents for commissioners, candidates, and the public. (These links do not work from the body of the text, but only from the references given in the footnotes.)

Please notify me, Anne if you have any concerns or corrections regarding this testimony. Thank you. 
§ 8-16.1-4  Criteria for selection of best qualified nominees. – The commission shall consider, but is not limited to, the following factors in selecting the best qualified nominees: intellect, ability, temperament, impartiality, diligence, experience, maturity, education, publications, and record of public, community, and government service. … The commission shall also consider the candidate's sensitivity to historically disadvantaged classes, and may disqualify any candidate with a demonstrated history of bias towards any of these classes.[i] 
Your criteria for selecting nominees includes impartiality, diligence, publications, and sensitivity to historically disadvantaged classes. Barbara Barrow wrote an article for the Rhode Island Bar Journal that disqualifies her for the bench on those grounds. I am posting this testimony with linked references so you can examine the sources for yourself.

Barbara Barrow’s article, “Parental Alienation Syndrome in Divorce”[ii] is simplistic and ignores factual evidence. What she leaves out is significant. She says that Richard A. Gardner, M.D., introduced “Parental Alienation” in the 1980s. She does not mention these facts:

·      Dr. Gardner was a psychiatrist on a mission to normalize sex between adults and children.[iii]
·      He was a leading lobbyist against mandatory reporting of child sex abuse.[iv]
·      He set up his own publishing company in New Jersey called “Creative Therapeutics.”
·      He published his theories without standards of peer review that are essential to establish scientific claims.
·      He falsely identified himself as a Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, a claim Columbia denied, asserting he was only a volunteer.[v]
·      Dr. Gardner served as an expert witness in more than 400 custody cases.
·      He committed suicide in 2003.[vi]

Gardner held that children who claim to be sexually abused by fathers, should not be believed. He hypothesized that the mothers had alienated, brainwashed, coached, and programmed their children. In one of the last interviews Gardner gave, Garland Waller asked what a mother should do when her child accuses a father of sexual abuse. Gardner replied the mother should say: “I don't believe you. I am going to beat you for saying that. Don't you ever talk that way again about your father.”[vii]

A Brief Chronology of Parental Alienation in Rhode Island Family Court

1991: Gardner publishes Sex Abuse Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials Revisited. In his final paragraph, he admits that the “vast majority (probably over 95%) of sex abuse allegations … are valid,” but he says he wrote the book to give that 5% whom he considers falsely accused “the sympathy and attention they deserve.”[viii]

1994: Courtroom testimony shows a court-ordered psychologist identifies Gardner as his source, and Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah, Jr. comments that he, too, is reading Gardner.[ix]  

1996: Chief Judge Jeremiah hires David Tassoni, who falsely claims to have college and law degrees. Tassoni soon becomes Chief Mediator and Case Manager.

2004: Tassoni helps to produce a 374-page training manual, Guardian ad Litem Practice in Rhode Island Family Court (Rhode Island Bar Association Continuing Legal Education Sponsored with the Rhode Island Family Court, Center for Advanced Legal Studies, October 4 - 5, 2004). The manual devotes an entire section to “Parental Alienation.”  

In the high-profile custody case of a Family Court deputy sheriff accused of domestic violence, Tassoni tells me he is searching for a psychologist who “understands Parental Alienation.” He finds one in a tiny suburban office. She moves into an elegant suite downtown as the court-appointed therapist who does “co-parenting” and “reunification therapy.” These are catchwords often associated with coercive “parental alienation” defense strategies. I have found them in Rhode Island guardian ad litem reports and court orders that placed children in the sole custody of alleged abusers or sent them back and forth between parents, even when one parent was documented as abusive and the other was protective.

2006: The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges publishes A Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases[x] and unequivocally states that judges should rule testimony on “parental alienation” inadmissible and strike it from evaluation reports because the concept has “no grounding in reality,” and it fails evidentiary standards. 

I write an op-ed in the Providence Journal about the “Discredited Parental Alienation Syndrome”[xi] and residents of a Rhode Island town ask me to research a case in which a 3-year-old complained about her father’s “sausage games.”[xii] The guardian ad litem was a close friend of the father’s criminal defense attorney and their “parental alienation” argument persuaded DCYF to give the father sole custody. He eventually took his daughters out of state and then out of the country. The neighbors had helped bring to Rhode Island a nationally recognized out-of-state attorney who specializes in fighting parental alienation cases, but the father’s lawyers successfully invoked Rhode Island’s pro hoc vice rules to block his participation. I later testify about the case and write about it online, giving names of lawyers and clinicians, as well as referencing these sources.

2010: I document the “sausage games” case in the textbook Domestic Violence, Legal Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues.[xiii] Court records in this and other cases show how lawyers and psychologists use “parental alienation” and coercive “co-parenting” and “reunification therapy” to stretch out these cases for their own financial profit at great harm to these families. 

2011: The new Chief Judge Hiaganush Bedrosian brings in state police to examine David Tassoni’s credentials, and Tassoni resigns. He claims to have mediated over 750 cases, but he is never charged with fraud on the court, and he sets up a mediation business.

Meanwhile, advocates of “parental alienation” defense strategies try unsuccessfully to pressure the American Psychiatric Association to add “parental alienation” to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).

2012: Barbara Barrow’s article appears in the RI Bar Journal, as if to restore the credibility of “parental alienation” after Tassoni’s downfall. I ask the editor-in-chief if I may write a response, and he says no, because I am not a lawyer.

2013: The American Psychiatric Association refuses to include “parental alienation” in the DSM-5.

2015: When I examine the letters for and against Barbara Barrow, I find one of her most ardent supporters is the guardian ad litem in the “sausage games” case. A letter in your file opposing Barrow comes from a stepfather whose stepson has complained about sexual abuse by his birth father. The stepfather writes that Attorney Barrow is not a neutral guardian ad litem. Following Dr. Gardner’s pattern, Barrow blames the mother for “coaching and/or ‘suggesting’ to the child…,” but then permits the alleged abuser to coach the child.

Families that have been traumatized by coercive control, domestic violence, or sexual abuse are “a historically disadvantaged class.” Such families need two things to heal: safety and the rule of law.
Commissioners, this is not about political correctness. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the American Psychiatric Association have absolutely rejected “parental alienation” on both legal and scientific grounds. They recognize this as a racket in which a small group of lawyers and psychologists can enrich themselves for years at the expense of vulnerable children and families, as we have documented over more than two decades in Rhode Island. 

We need this Commission to become well-informed about the racketeering use of “parental alienation” and to discern which candidates have the personal integrity not to allow these schemes to persist in their courtrooms. Please ask all candidates for Family Court -- and in the future, for appellate courts -- what their opinions are of “parental alienation.” See if they understand why coercive strategies for “co-parenting,” and “reunification therapy” can be dangerous for these children and their protective parents.  

We need you to do three things:  
1.    Become well-informed about these abusive rackets by reviewing the sources; [xiv] 
2.    Nominate prospective judges who recognize and will not tolerate strategies based on the junk science of “parental alienation”; and 
3.   Do not recommend as “highly qualified” Barbara Barrow or any candidate willing to compromise the safety of children and the rigors of the law to permit courtroom strategies based on “parental alienation.”  
Thank you. 


[iv] Gardner, R.A. (1995). Written testimony on HR3588 – Proposed revision of the child abuse prevention and treatment act (CAPTA) (Public Law 93-247) and
Dallam, S.J. (1998). Dr. Richard Gardner: A review of his theories and opinions on atypical sexuality, pedophilia, and treatment issues. Treating Abuse Today, 8(1), 15-23, as cited in
[vii] Garland Waller videos: Debating Richard Gardner; Small Justice: Little Justice in America’s Family Courts
[viii] Richard A. Gardner, Sex Abuse Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials Revisited (Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics, 1991, p. 140.
[ix] P92-4797, Transcript, April 11, 1994, p. 18.
[xi] Anne Grant, “Family Court Devastation: Discredited Parental Alienation Syndrome,” Providence Journal, June 27, 2006, B5.
[xiv] Further resources are available at The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence,

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Drawing conclusions: Children's drawings during abuse investigations

April 3, 2014
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Illustrations by children can be a critical tool in forensic investigations of child abuse. A recent study compared the results when child abuse victims were offered the opportunity to draw during questioning with results when victims were not offered this opportunity. "The act of drawing was not only an empowering experience for these children," said the lead investigator. "We had no idea the gap would be so great between those who drew and those who weren't given this option."

Is a picture worth only a thousand words? According to Dr. Carmit Katz of Tel Aviv University's Bob Shapell School of Social Work, illustrations by children can be a critical tool in forensic investigations of child abuse.
Dr. Katz's study, published in Child Abuse and Neglect, compared the results when child abuse victims were offered the opportunity to draw during questioning with victims not offered this opportunity. Her findings saw a significant difference, suggesting a therapeutic value and indicating that children empowered to draw pictures about their abuse provided much fuller and more detailed descriptions.
"The act of drawing was not only an empowering experience for these children," said Dr. Katz. "We also found it to be forensically more effective in eliciting richer testimonies in child abuse cases. We had no idea the gap would be so great between those who drew and those who weren't given this option."

A chance to express themselves
Some 125 alleged child victims of sexual abuse were randomly selected for the field study. The children, aged 5-14, were questioned by nine well-trained forensic interviewers about a single occurrence of alleged sexual abuse. The children were divided into two sets -- a control group, questioned and allowed to rest during the session; and a variable group, offered the opportunity to draw pictures about their experiences for 7-10 minutes instead of resting.
The interviews in the study were conducted according to standard NICHD (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development International Evidence-Based Investigative Interviewing of Children) protocol, which dictates using open-ended questions to elicit more comprehensive testimonies.
"For example, we asked children to 'tell me again everything that happened to you,' without using any leading terms to steer the discussion," said Dr. Katz. "And we found that if that question was followed by the comment, 'You can use the drawing if you want to,' the child's testimony was substantially more comprehensive and detailed."
In the study, Dr. Katz worked with professional practitioners from Israel's Investigative Interview Service, which is considering incorporating her strategy into the standing NICHD protocol.

Empowering the victim
"As a social worker, I'm not only interested in obtaining accurate forensic results," said Dr. Katz. "I'm also interested in empowering the children. Through drawing, children reported regaining some sense of control -- even feeling hopeful. This also has recuperative properties."
Dr. Katz has focused her research on turning the typically traumatic forensic interview into a first step toward recovery for child abuse victims, who reported feeling understood, successful and in control after drawing during the questioning. "The only thing that counts is the child's narrative and his or her narrative of the respective drawing," she said. "But forensic investigators must be very careful not to attribute meaning where none exists. For example, 'I see a penis in this drawing, please tell me about it,' is a projective strategy which usually garners false results. My strategy is to offer open-ended prompts alongside drawing, which we found to be a great facilitator of communication."

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by American Friends of Tel Aviv UniversityNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. Carmit Katz, Zion Barnetz, Irit Hershkowitz. The effect of drawing on children's experiences of investigations following alleged child abuseChild Abuse & Neglect, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2014.01.003

Cite This Page:
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. "Drawing conclusions: Children's drawings during abuse investigations." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 April 2014


Monday, December 1, 2014

A Better Way to Select Judges

Monday, December 01, 2014
Guest MINDSETTER™ Anne Grant

One mother’s riveting, sometimes rambling, testimony at the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) on May 4, 2011, may have led to the commission’s recent proposal to change its rules. (Katie Mulvaney, “R.I. judicial nominating panel proposes allowing public to comment on nominees,” Providence Journal, November 3, 2014.)

She asked commissioners’ patience with her “two invisible disabilities,” post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which, she said, “make it easy for others to deceive and humiliate me.” Her testimony prompted me to research her three-year-old custody case and to attend her next hearings.

Rhode Island’s Family Court is a civil court with a criminal demeanor. After I had become executive director of the Women’s Center of Rhode Island in 1988, I found that battered mothers who had succeeded in getting their children away from violent homes into our shelter were often treated as criminals in Family Court.

Having escaped one form of assault, they were stunned by the legal attacks and bullying in the courtroom, where they were typically called “defendants” instead of “respondents” -- the civil court term preferred in other states. Few mothers had money to hire attorneys. Since this was not a criminal court, they had no access to public defenders. Legal Services seldom had enough staff for such interminable cases waged by terrifying opponents.

The mother at the JNC’s public hearing (I’ll call her “Tracy”) testified against an attorney who sought nomination to Family Court. He had been the court-ordered guardian ad litem representing the child’s “best interests”. She told the commission he had laughed at her, refused to interview her witnesses, failed to complete his reports on time, threatened to bankrupt her, and colluded with the other side.

Trained as an engineer, Tracy had served with top-secret clearance as an officer in the Air Force, where the military regimen provided a structure that worked well for her high-functioning autism. I asked if she could apply her engineering skills to what was happening procedurally in her case, and she designed a tool that she called a “7/30 chart.”

Data-driven and beautiful in its simplicity, this might be the tool needed to evaluate lawyers and judges by their own docket sheets instead of grandiloquent speeches and letters from influential friends.  

Here’s how it works: When a judge makes a verbal order at a hearing, the winning attorney must render the judge’s words in writing and send that draft to the opposing attorney within seven days to establish their agreement on the substance of the order. This written order must be signed by the judge and entered into the record by the clerk within 30 days of the hearing. 

Applying these administrative rules as her algorithm, Tracy set up a track on which a properly administered case should run. Every hearing should result in one order. All orders should be entered within the limits set at 7 days and 30 days from the hearing.

An ideal 7/30 track might look like this:   

Tracy’s 7/30 chart of her own case opens with a string of four emergency ex parte orders against her, four continuances, and numerous orders entered “out of time.” Court orders land far off track, and some never get entered at all. The case had been running off track for nine months before Tracy even saw a judge.

While these administrative abuses do not begin to reveal the substantive abuse, they show a system gone awry. In Tracy’s case, the opposing attorneys repeatedly violated court rules. Their legal tactics played havoc with Tracy’s autism and PTSD, triggering symptoms that worked against her in court.

At the JNC hearing in 2011, the guardian ad litem who had a major hand in Tracy’s case heard from other angry parents, and commissioners declined to nominate him. 

But in February 2014, he appeared once more at the JNC, again seeking nomination as a Family Court judge. One commissioner publicly apologized that the attorney had no opportunity to respond to his critics three years earlier, and they nominated him without ever investigating those complaints. 

Now the commission is considering a good rule change to hear public comments first and investigate any complaints before they interview applicants. Another positive change would be to secure the most recent decade of docket sheets from each applicant’s cases and run them through Tracy’s 7/30 algorithm. 

A single docket will not reveal which lawyer or judge created problems. But it will show how to investigate case files and focus better interview questions about troubling patterns in these cases. 

If clerks posted a 7/30 chart inside each file, a trial judge could call lawyers to the bench to ask why a case has gone off track. When judges seek nomination to higher courts, their own 7/30 charts would show the JNC how well they manage cases. 

Litigants can use 7/30 charts as an objective standard to complain to the Disciplinary Counsel or the Judicial Tenure and Discipline Commission. 

Moreover, the JNC could invite the public to submit 7/30 charts on all applicants before selecting those candidates to be interviewed. The present system raises suspicion that good candidates have been excluded without public knowledge because some commissioners may be too entrenched in a highly political system.  

Anne Grant ( has researched and written about Family Court cases for more than twenty years. 

About the mother and child pictured at the top

On February 21, 1992, Rhode Island Family Court's Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah gave this two-year-old to the sole custody and possession of her father despite his history of domestic violence and failure to pay child support. The father, a police officer, brought false charges against his ex-wife, first saying she was a drug addict. (Twenty-two random tests proved she was not.) Then he had her arrested for bank fraud, then for filing a false report, then for sexual abuse, then for kidnapping. None of his charges stuck.

The child remained with her father and stepmother until 2003, when, at 14, she finally realized that her mother had not been a drug addict. The teenager persuaded Judge Stephen Capineri to let her return to her mother. There she began working on the painful issues of lifelong coercion and deception--a tangled knot of guilt and rage. Most painful has been her father’s continuing refusal to let her visit two dearly loved half-sisters, whom she has not seen since 2003.

She is one of countless children in Rhode Island subjected to severe emotional and physical trauma by Family Court when it helps abusive parents to maintain control over their families after divorce. When she turned 18 in 2007, she gave the Parenting Project permission to publish her picture on behalf of all children who have been held hostage by Rhode Island custody scams.

We are using this blog to provide links to stories that will help concerned people, including government officials, become aware of this form of child abuse and legal abuse. We must work together to improve the courts' ability to recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic abuse who are trying to protect their children.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are looking for the story of the removal of "Molly and Sara," please visit

About the Author and the Cause

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service begun in 1996 at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. Our goal is to make Rhode Island's child protective system more effective, transparent, and accountable.

The Parenting Project coordinator, Anne Grant, a retired minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter for battered women and their children, researches and writes about official actions that endanger children and the parents who try to protect them. She wrote a chapter on Rhode Island in Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, ed. Mo Therese Hannah, PhD, and Barry Goldstein, JD (Civic Research Institute, 2010).

Comments and corrections on anything written here may be sent in an email with no attachments to

Find out more about the crisis in custody courts here: provides forensic resources to end violence against women

about domestic violence in hague custody cases:

more about domestic violence in law enforcement: