Montgomery County moves to create safe harbor for children

ROCKVILLE, Md. (WUSA9) -- After our story last week, Montgomery County is now moving quickly to ensure the safety of the children of domestic violence.

Four children from the county have died in the last six years while on unsupervised visits with violent fathers.

But top county officials now all seem to agree they need to respond fast to an extraordinary study by a volunteer group called Court Watch Montgomery.

Court Watch volunteers observed hundreds of hearings and found that judges ordered unsupervised visits between father and child in 70 percent of the cases, even after finding clear and convincing evidence he'd committed violence on the child's mother.

That is what happened with the three Castillo children, drowned one by one by their father in a bathtub in 2008.

And that's what prosecutors suspect happened to Prince Rams, allegedly murdered by his father in October 2012.

Court Watch recommended Montgomery County follow the example of many other counties across the region and set up a safe harbor where children can be transferred from one parent to the other and where judges can order supervised visits.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett has now set up a task force to create exactly that kind of place who says, "We do not need to have abusive adults in the midst of children continuing some of the same abusive relationships they've had before."

Judges sometimes tell parents they can transfer their kids at a mall, a grocery store, or the parking lot of a police station. But there have been explosions of violence even in very public places.

"There have been children hurt at these type of exchanges," says Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin. "And those are the cases where I think if we had something like this, that would not have occurred."

Everyone seems to agree the county needs to do more to keep more children from being hurt. But despite the apparent consensus on creating a safe harbor for the vulnerable children of domestic violence, the county sheriff says it could take one year and hundreds of thousands of dollars to set it up and staff it.


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