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California Judge Michael Nash this year ruled to open child welfare hearings in Los Angeles County unless there’s proof that doing so will harm the child.
Advocates in favor of more transparency in family courts applauded the decision, because they believe the secrecy can lead to decisions that hurt children.
Gail Helms was behind the push for more transparency in California. In 1995, her 2-year-old grandson was beaten to death by his father, who had been awarded custody despite a history of drug abuse.
Around that same time, Holly Collins of Minnesota was on her way to the Netherlands with her children, 11-year-old Zachary and 9-year-old Jennifer. They had been placed in their father’s custody, and she says she fled to protect them from abuse and a court system that ignored her pleas for help.
Holly became a fugitive, accused of kidnapping her children, and she was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. But her children said she was protecting them.
“As a kid, I thought it was quite ridiculous that they were charging my mom with kidnapping her own children… taking them away from an abusive father. It seemed completely ludicrous to me,” Zachary Collins, now in his 20s, said in the documentary, “No Way Out But One.”
Holly Collins and her children lived in a Dutch refugee camp for three years, before she was granted asylum.
After 17 years in the Netherlands, Holly Collins returned to the United States, and was ultimately cleared of kidnapping charges.
And now her case has become a rallying point for advocates who want to reform the family court system in the United States.