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ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. – The St. Charles County Family Court has domestic abuse victims crying foul. A group that encourages family reunification, even in cases of domestic violence, is holding a courthouse seminar for judges and legal professionals.

The group, called Overcoming Barriers, is hosting what it’s calling a training session on Friday.

The group’s website promotes its approach to handling high-conflict divorces, in which a child resists contact with one of the parents.
It offers training across the country for family court professionals like judges, attorneys, mediators, and mental health officials.

It even offers a once-a-year “camp” for a handful of families, which may include families with past incidents of domestic violence.

While the St. Charles County Court is in no way involved in sending families to the camp, it has invited the group to host a day-long training session.

Victims’ advocates, including spousal abuse survivor and volunteer St. Charles County Court victims’ advocate Carolyn Deevers, are alarmed. They plan to protest outside the event.

“They promote reunification (and) not only of children who maybe don’t like their parents, children who are a product of divorce,” Deevers said. “Our main concern is children who’ve just come through a domestic violence situation.”

St. Charles County Family Court Judge Erin Burlison was even on the group’s board of directors but just stepped down. Still, St. Charles County Family Court Administrative Judge John Banas has stood by the training session.

He released the following statement:

“The presentation on Friday is strictly a seminar for Mental Health Professionals and Lawyers on how to best handle highly contested custody matters. The presenters are presenting in their role as experts in contested family court cases, which is a growing concern in our family courts.”

Fox reached national expert, domestic violence author, and former attorney Barry Goldstein in New York.

“They’re really doing the opposite of what the courts should be doing,” he said of programs promoting family reunification in cases of abuse. “Instead of reducing the fear and stress that victims of domestic violence and child abuse are under, they’re pressuring victims to resume a relationship with someone who hurt them.”

Dr. Leslie Drozd, a psychologist and family therapist who will be presenting the seminar, told Fox 2 that the organization helps navigate multi-layered issues with evidence-informed treatments that always put safety and children first and that arrive at actual solutions instead endless court battles.