Courts failing children of domestic violence?

ROCKVILLE, Md. (WUSA9) -- Four children in one county, dead after unsupervised visits with their fathers -- visits moms had warned judges might endanger their children.

An extraordinary new study suggests judges and elected leaders in Montgomery County are doing too little to protect children in homes with a history of domestic violence.

Dozens of volunteers observed hundreds of court hearings and what they found shocked them.

Volunteers from Court Watch Montgomery say they saw constant echoes of the story of the three Castillo children, who were drowned by their father one by one in a bathtub on an unsupervised visit in March, 2008. They also saw echoes of the case of 15 month old Prince Rams, who was also allegedly murdered by his father while he was with him alone in October, 2012.

"I thought it was fairly obvious that this man was dangerous based on his history," says Prince's mom, Hera McLeod. But the family court judge ordered the visit anyway.

The volunteers say in 70% of the hearings they attended, judges ordered unsupervised visits between a child and father even after finding clear and convincing evidence he'd committed violence on the child's mother.

Montgomery County has no facility where judges can send children for visits. "We need a supervised visitation center where children from violent homes can have safe visits and know they're safe," says Laurie Duker of Court Watch Montgomery.

The Frederick County Mental Health Association -- and many other counties -- already have a safe place for supervised visits and a place where children can be handed off from one parent to the other. In Frederick County, the parents arrive through separate entrances, park in different places in the parking lot, there are locked doors, and staggered times. The parents never see each other.

Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy says he has already been talking to the sheriff about setting up a similar system. "I think this good sense suggestion is one that rapidly gains support. If it guarantees the safety and security of domestic violence victims and children, Montgomery County will not say no," says McCarthy.

Prince's mom hopes the recommendations from Court Watch Montgomery save other mothers from her grief. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss that child. I don't think I will ever wake up and not think of him."

The office of Montgomery County's Administrative Judge says he is reviewing the report and hopes to talk to us about it Friday.

Advocates say Montgomery County does a lot for domestic violence victims, but this report suggests it could do more.


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