ANNAPOLIS – No one wants to sever the bonds between a parent and a child. But when parents neglect or abuse their kids, it is the right thing to do, advocates of child protection laws said Wednesday.
“Special bonds of trust and love exist between parents and children,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Jr., D-Montgomery, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “However, some parents betray this trust.”
He was one of more than a dozen speakers who testified in support of two bills that would strengthen the state’s hand when it goes to take children from their parents.
No one spoke against the bills, which sprang from high- profile child abuse and custody cases in Montgomery County.
The most notorious was the case of Richard Holmes, a 5-year- old who had been imprisoned in the bedroom of his Germantown home by his father and his father’s girlfriend.
The boy was tied to his bed with a cat leash for up to 22 hours a day, beaten and forced to eat peppers and drink liquor, among other abuses.
Van Hollen said the other case that roused lawmakers to action was the “horrific incident” in which a judge in December awarded custody of Cornelious Pixley to his mother, Latrena, who had earlier been convicted of murdering another child. Cornelious was up for adoption at the time.
“The sad part about this, is these cases are not isolated cases,” Van Hollen said. “The bills will not change what has already happened, but they are designed to protect the children.”
Senate Bill 382 is aimed at children like Richard who are in the custody of the state, said Van Hollen. The bill would require that courts give primary consideration to the child’s safety when deciding whether to take them from a parent who has been convicted of abuse.
Senate Bill 648, is meant to deal with private adoptive cases, like Cornelious’s. The bill says that if a parent has been convicted of a crime of violence against someone in the home, or if there is clear evidence of child abuse, the parent should be considered unfit to care for the child.
In that case, the courts “must terminate the natural parent’s rights,” unless it deems that the parent is fit or that the child would be safe.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan supported both bills, saying they go hand in hand and help “improve the balance between our duty to ensure the safety” for children in the county’s care.
“Child welfare cases are perhaps the most difficult, wrenching circumstances that governments are called upon to deal with,” said Duncan. “They call for a delicate balancing act.
“The bonds between child and parent are strong. No one wants to sever these bonds unnecessarily,” he said.
Melissa Callahan Lesmes, a lawyer who volunteered her time to work on the Pixley case, testified in support of both bills.
“I am here today as a Montgomery County resident, member of the Maryland State Bar and mother concerned about the future and well-being of children … forced to reside in homes plagued by abuse and violence simply because the court deems it–almost certainly–in the best interest of a child to remain the custody of the natural parent,” she said.
William Pierce of the National Council for Adoption agreed. He said the state should work to “help ensure that children who have been abused by their biological families should not be abused by the system meant to protect them.”