AT News
Archived Issue
Originally emailed 13 August 2002

Representative Stafford Tries to Eat Her Young

Plans to Undo “Candace’s Law” Go Awry

In 2001, Colorado state Rep. Debbie Stafford (R-Aurora) received national attention as a freshman legislator for the unanimous passage of her “Candace’s Law.“

Candace’s Law banned the practice of “rebirthing,” the unvalidated practice that was in part responsible for the death of 10-year-old
Candace Newmaker at the hands of Attachment Therapists Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder. Candace’s Law was signed into passage a month before Watkins and Ponder were both sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Anti-Attachment Therapy activists who supported Stafford were nonetheless frustrated that Candace’s Law only affected a very minor percentage of AT’s abusive, unvalidated practices. At the time of passage, Rep. Stafford promised to introduce legislation in the 2002 session to toughen up Colorado laws in order to effectively ban other abusive practices commonly used by AT therapists, mostly involving restraint, and known by such names as “holding therapy,” “compression therapy,” “the holding nurturing process,” “gentle containment,” and “emotional shuttling.”

In November 2001, Stafford called for meeting of interested parties, presumably to hammer out the wording of the promised bill. But instead, Stafford showed she was now more than willing to alter Candace’s Law so that it would actually
support “restraint therapies.” To a room filled with therapists practicing AT, Stafford (herself an “unlicensed psychotherapist“*) claimed that she wouldn’t “throw out the baby with the bath water,” i.e., do away with the use of restraint as a therapy.

Stafford produced a 3-4 inch stack of letters supporting Attachment Therapy, a campaign organized by AT “parenting expert” Nancy Thomas. Also, playing to the fact that Stafford is a lay minister, adult “rebirthers” protested that Candace’s Law interfered with their “religious” practices (though those practices are generally promoted as secular therapy). AT therapists at the meeting also claimed that minor injuries, such as bruising, are commonly sustained with AT, but represent no threat to the children sustaining them.

Buying into all this, Stafford ultimately proposed to change — gut, really — Candace’s Law with language acceptable to critics of the original. She agreed to eliminate all reference to rebirthing. Then she proposed to ban only that restraint that which could result in “severe bodily injury” (instead of any physical injury). Finally, she proposed to reinstate the loophole that permitted the use of “restraint therapy” with parental consent.

An adult survivor of AT, Karen Whitfield, along with her husband Jeff, attended the meeting and both spoke eloquently of the brutal treatment Karen endured for many years at the hands of AT therapists, e.g., those at the Attachment Center at Evergreen (ACE). Stafford responded by inviting the two on a goodwill tour of ACE and a Denver AT clinic run by psychologist John Dicke.

And to further show total solidarity with AT therapists, Stafford refused to watch a 10-minute composite video exposing the brutal nature of AT “holding therapy” practices.

Anticipating that Governor Bill Owens would not be amused at such changes to Candace’s Law, anti-AT activists alerted the Governor’s office. The bill to make the changes was never introduced. Towards the end of the session, though, Stafford gave a heads-up to the press that the repeal was still on her legislative agenda. At the time, though, fate intervened in the person of “holding therapist” John Dicke, Stafford’s newest ally. An investigative article in the Denver tabloid
Westword exposed Dr. Dicke’s shocking use of dildos and restraint in therapy with young children, and how regulatory actions had been recently taken against him. The story made it a less-than-ideal time to ask legislators to repeal Candace’s Law and permit abusive restraint a la Dicke.

So, the 2002 session passed without a repeal or watering-down of Candace’s Law. That much was good. But the 2002 session also went by without passing, or even introducing, the legislation needed to outlaw the abusive restraint “therapies” used in Colorado by many Attachment Therapists and AT “therapeutic foster parents.” It was a loss, in that respect, of another twelve months.

But things are looking up for 2003. Steve Jensen, one of the lead prosecutors who got a conviction of Candace’s killers, is running for the Colorado State Senate this year, with a good chance of being elected. He has vowed, if elected, to strengthen Colorado’s laws regarding abusive therapies and unwarranted use of restraint in therapy. There are others running for the legislature who have said the same. The governor’s office is also sympathetically looking into the issue for their legislative agenda in 2003.

* Rep. Stafford is an “associate minister” for Dennis Leonard Ministries, one of the largest congregations in the country with 12,000 members. The church, of undetermined denomination, emphasizes community service and boasts a staff of 250 psychotherapists. Calls and emails to determine if AT is done by any of these therapists have gone unanswered.

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