Judge removes custody of boy from Montgomery County Children Services

Montgomery County Children Services campus on North Main Street in Dayton. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

caption arrowCaption
Montgomery County Children Services campus on North Main Street in Dayton. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Highland County has permanent custody of teen.

The Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office is reviewing how the local children services agency handled the placement of a teen in another county with a woman who later tested positive for meth and had her biological kids taken away.

The situation led a judge in Highland County — where the boy is placed — to order an emergency removal taking the child from Montgomery County’s legal custody and placing him with Highland County Children Services.

Montgomery County Children Services had relocated the boy to stay with the woman’s neighbor after the drug test and Highland County took her kids away. But the judge criticized Montgomery County Children Services officials for placing the boy in a home so close to the woman and allowing her to take the boy out of school.

Montgomery County Children Services officials said they are unable to comment on the case.

Montgomery County this month surrendered permanent custody to Highland County, and the case was closed after Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck wrote a letter pledging to look into it.

“I share your concern about several of the decisions about the placement of the child … in Highland County,” Heck wrote to the Highland County prosecutor in a letter obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

ExploreReforms created in the wake of Takoda Collins death helping other children

“I have already personally spoken with the director of Montgomery County Children Services about my/our concerns with the placement, as well as the incident with the school in Highland County,” Heck wrote. “I have further instructed my staff to make inquiries and recommend changes to ensure that such incidents do not happen in the future.”

Montgomery County took custody of the child in 2018 after he was found living with his mother in unacceptable conditions in Dayton and his mother tested positive for drugs. His father is deceased. Montgomery County placed the boy with his mother’s cousin in the village of Sardinia in Highland County, according to juvenile court records.

The Dayton Daily News is not identifying the Sardinia woman to protect the privacy of the children.

Highland County report

On Sept. 27, 2021, one of the Sardinia woman’s children reported to Highland County that her mother was using drugs, she was housing a fugitive who was also using drugs, and that the children were living in an outbuilding, court records say.

Court records say Highland County removed the woman’s children but couldn’t find the Dayton boy. He was later found to be staying with the neighbor where Montgomery County had placed him. The Sardinia woman tested positive for meth use.

On Oct. 7, the boy’s high school reported to Highland County that the woman had signed the Dayton boy out of school, and the boy told school officials he was living with the woman again, court records say.

ExploreMontgomery County names new Children Services leader

Highland County contacted Montgomery County, and a supervisor here told Highland County they were aware the boy was taken out of school and of the positive drug test.

“Montgomery County’s interactions have been ‘different’ than Highland County’s, they are making a ‘safe plan’ for (the boy) and … their agency plans on following up with (the woman) on Oct. 8,” according to a Oct. 7 complaint by Highland County Children Services alleging child endangerment and neglect.

The filing says Montgomery County was considering adopting the boy to the woman.

Judge questions Montgomery County

Highland County Judge Kevin Greer granted emergency temporary custody to Highland County Children Services and ordered Montgomery County officials into court the next day.

In that hearing, Montgomery County Children Services adoption supervisor Kelcie Paxson said they first learned the boy was living in an outbuilding when they visited on Sept. 28 after the woman’s other kids were taken away, according to coverage of the hearing by the Highland County Press.

Paxson said they made the decision to place the child with a neighbor, the newspaper reported. Paxson said she OK’d the woman picking the boy up from school and the woman took him straight to the neighbor’s.

Greer questioned the agency’s decision to allow the woman to pick up the child from school after testing positive for drugs and having her biological children taken away.

ExploreAid expanded for crime victims, including from Oregon District shooting

“My experience is people using meth can’t take care of themselves, let alone a child. It’s pretty concerning to me that with your background, training and experience, you would let someone using methamphetamine transport a child. It sounds to me like it was more of a matter of convenience,” Greer said, according to the Highland County Press. “It doesn’t work that way in Highland County.”

“We now know that,” the Montgomery County supervisors reportedly responded.

“It shouldn’t in any county,” countered Greer, according to the newspaper. “We don’t let people who recently tested positive for methamphetamine pick a child up from school.”

Judge issues custody order

Greer ordered the child to remain in temporary custody of Highland County until a final decision could be made, court records say.

“This child has been put at risk far too long and far too many times,” Greer said, according to the Highland County Press. “Allowing a person you knew, from your own testimony, had recently used meth to take a child from school is truly beyond my comprehension.”

Before the case went to trial in December, Heck wrote the letter on Nov. 24 promising to look into the matter and agreeing to permanently transfer the child’s case to Highland County.

An official with Heck’s office said this week that the review is ongoing and recommendations to improve practices are being drafted.

ExploreAudit: Montgomery County properly handled $93M in CARES Act funds; FBI probe continues

The complaint against Montgomery County was dismissed and placement of the child transferred to Highland County on Dec. 6.

The Highland County Press reports that Montgomery County chief assistant prosecutor for the civil division, Ward Barrentine, attended a Dec. 2 hearing and assured the judge his concerns were being taken seriously.

“We have been and continue to work with Children Services to reform our practices,” Barrentine reportedly said. “Any indication that any case has caused any potential harm to a child causes our boss to take a hard look at what we’re doing.

“We will continue to work with our Children Services on not only this case, but any case that is brought to our attention.”

The Dayton Daily News will continue to follow this case and report on what the local prosecutor’s review finds.

About the Author