Instagram video showing alleged forcible removal of kids from Santa Cruz home prompts furor

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As the anger has spread rapidly through social media in Santa Cruz, county and city leaders called a news conference Thursday, saying they want to take on the issues involved in custody-driven “reunification camp” court orders that lead to sudden removal of children from their homes. At issue, the removals themselves and who is involved in them and how.

Third District Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty and Santa Cruz Mayor Sonja Brunner are set to hold a news conference Thursday after they were flooded with concerned calls about an Instagram video that allegedly depicts two local children being forcibly removed from a home by a private transportation company to be taken to a reunification camp.

Coonerty told Lookout that he has been contacted by “dozens if not hundreds of people” who saw the video. On Wednesday, Coonerty and Brunner put out a media release linking to the Instagram video.

The video, trending on Instagram since Oct. 21, shows several people allegedly grabbing two children in a garage and carrying them toward a van while the children fight back. Coonerty said that the incident stems from a custody dispute between two parents in Santa Cruz County.

“These kids are 15 and 11 years old. They’re well known in the community, thriving kids,” Coonerty told Lookout on Wednesday. “The court ordered that the kids be taken from their grandparents’ home and delivered to a reunification camp in [Los Angeles],” where he said a reunification therapist would have custody of the children for 90 days.

Reunification is the return of the child to the parent or to the home from which the child was removed for reasons of child abuse, neglect or both, regardless of the custody arrangement prior to the child entering out-of-home care. Coonerty said the court order required the children to reestablish a relationship with their mother, from whom they had been alienated.

Coonerty’s concern comes in part from the fact that county child protective services has a policy not to put hands on kids, he explained. He said the video depicts a private transportation company involved in taking the children and that he plans to press county officials to regulate such companies.

“Because of the idea that a for-profit transportation company can come in and put hands on kids, we’ll be asking our county counsel to look at whether we can regulate that as a business,” he said.

“If our board and council agree,” he added, “we’ll be sending a letter to our state elected officials asking them to regulate, if not ban, these sorts of for-profit reunification camps.”

This is a localization of a broader issue pertaining to custody battles, and these reunification camps are viewed as controversial. There has been state and national legislation aimed at their regulation.

The video has caused an uproar on social media and across the county over the past week, including a candlelight vigil on Thursday and a protest at the courthouse in Watsonville.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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