MONTGOMERY COUNTY officials on Friday will celebrate the opening of a center that provides for safe child exchanges and supervised visits when there is a high degree of conflict between custodial parents. The event comes more than five years after the death of 15-month-old Prince McLeod Rams underscored the dangers of unsupervised visits and gaps in the safety net that is supposed to safeguard children. It is a noteworthy step in improving protections. Hopefully it will be followed by action on the state level that addresses another problem revealed by Prince's death: the utter lack of standards on the sale of life insurance for children.
Prince was murdered by his father during a court-ordered unsupervised visit — which his mother had objected to during Montgomery County custody proceedings — as part of a premeditated scheme to cash in on more than $500,000 in life insurance the father had secretly obtained on the toddler's life. The boy's death in October 2012 at his father's home in Manassas revealed flaws in a family court system that prioritized a parent's rights over a child's safety and was cited by the nonprofit Court Watch Montgomery in a report highlighting a lack of affordable supervised visitation services.
On Friday, officials will officially inaugurate Montgomery County's Safe Passage Center. The Rockville facility can serve about 80 families a week, providing a safe place where parents can exchange children for visits and where visits can be monitored if a child may be at risk.
Now it's the General Assembly's turn. Del. Erek L. Barron (D-Prince George's) has introduced legislation to require insurance companies to tighten underwriting standards and procedures before writing life insurance policies on children. Mr. Barron said our editorials showing how easy it was for Prince's father to get policies on his newborn son's life — no questions asked despite his shaky finances and other suspicious actions — prompted him to take a look, consulting with state insurance regulators before coming up with the proposal that would require additional checks by insurance companies to detect possible fraud or bad intent. "I didn't see any reason why we shouldn't have better standards to prevent this kind of thing. . . . Even if it is only one child that can be saved, it is a no-brainer," he said.
Juvenile life insurance represents easy profit, and it is scandalous that states by and large allow companies to set their own standards. If young and vulnerable lives are to be insured — a practice many financial experts consider dubious because it benefits the insurance industry far more than the consumer — there should be more, not less, scrutiny.
Maryland lawmakers need to take up Mr. Barron's bill and, we would argue, make it even stronger, possibly by placing limits (as New York does ) on the amount of insurance that can be taken out on children. Other states — including Virginia, where Prince's life was so callously snuffed out — need to pay attention to this issue.
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