maya sebastian laing
Maya and Sebastian Laing are shown in a screenshot from an Instagram video.

In October, a Santa Cruz teen and her younger brother were violently taken from a relative’s house, driven to Los Angeles and forced into a family therapy program with their mother. They were then taken to Washington to live with her. Seven months later, they snuck out in the pre-dawn hours and went into hiding. 

After more than two months living in a variety of places, they are now back with their father—where they say they wanted to be the entire time—after a Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge granted temporary shared custody to the parents.

“It’s been really good to be back, and to be doing normal things,” Maya Laing, 16, said.

The back story

The story of Maya and her brother Sebastian, 12, garnered international attention on Oct. 20, when a company called Assisted Interventions, Inc. sent several people to their grandmother’s house to take them to a court-ordered “therapy” program.

The siblings did not want to go, but despite their protestations, were forced into a waiting car—both of them crying and struggling—while Santa Cruz Police stood by and friends and family watched.

But several people also took video of the incident and posted it to social media. To watch, click here. Be warned; it is disturbing.

Assisted Interventions has not responded to numerous requests for comment.

Laing and her brother were then forced to undergo “reunification therapy,” a program often ordered by family court judges in contentious custody disputes in which one parent accuses the other of alienation.

But the practice is controversial among psychologists.

Court-appointed therapist Jeanette Yoffe said in June that forcing children into reunification therapy is an “unethical and immoral” practice that will cause further trauma.

After the kids ran away, Maya took to social media, describing in detail the trip to Los Angeles and the intensive four-day reunification program with their mother. This included being kept in a locked room, threatened with being placed in a locked facility and denied the ability to contact their friends and family.

Even as Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Rebecca Connolly granted dual custody, their mother tried to convince her to order another transportation company or a local police agency to take them again, this time to a locked facility, Maya says.

Connolly, who had granted the previous order, rejected this request.

That decision came as no surprise to their father Justin Laing.

“I don’t think it’s a publicly tenable situation for them to take the kids again,” he said. 

A changing tide

In the wake of the kids’ removal, Maya’s friends took to the streets, protesting against reunification therapy in busy intersections and at courthouses, and contacting state and federal lawmakers to urge them to enact laws that would curtail the actions of transporter companies and therapists who engage in reunification therapy.

And they have been largely successful. The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors in March passed an ordinance that prohibits the use of force by companies that transport children.

In addition, Senate Bill 331—also known as Piqui’s Law—would make it illegal for a judge to order reunification therapy that uses threats of force or coercion and transport agents that do the same. 

That law passed unanimously out of the Senate on May 24. 

The Assembly Appropriations Committee placed it in the suspense file on Wednesday, where lawmakers will consider its financial impact to the state on Sept. 1, Assemblywoman Gail Pellerin said.

The kids’ mother, her attorney and Lynn Steinberg, who runs the reunification program, did not respond to a request for comment.

Justin Laing said the kids have been unwittingly thrust into a situation that has garnered national attention. But his daughter has networked with children across the U.S. in similar situations.

That advocacy, he says, could change public perception of the family court system, and transform the laws regulating the reunification industry.

“This is way bigger than Santa Cruz and it’s way bigger than California,” he said. “There are thousands of families affected by this right now, and these kids have basically joined forces and are working to help each other.”

To see Maya tell her story on Instagram, visit

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


  1. I’m disappointed that most of the coverage of this case largely ignores the gross misconduct of Rebecca Connoly, and that she has not been held accountable for her actions not just in this case, but in hundreds of cases she has been involved in.

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