New York’s Top Child Welfare Senator Previews Next Legislative Session

Originally published in The Chronicle of Social Change on October 16, 2019.

The New York State legislature passed a raft of historic child welfare bills this year. All of them aimed to strengthen birth family ties: one bill would open access to original birth certificates for adoptees; another increases the standard of evidence in child neglect cases, and decreases the consequences of such investigations for parents; four other bills boost support for relatives and family friends who care for someone else’s child.

At the center of the advocacy push was Brooklyn State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, who will be the returning chair of the senate’s Children and Family Committee next session.

Montgomery is one of the longest-tenured senators in New York, with a district spanning from Sunset Park to downtown Brooklyn, and across Bedford-Stuyvesant. She’s been in office since the borough’s rising black political class shepherded in a new generation of elected leaders in the early 1980s. The New York Times described her then as a “soft-spoken advocate for child care,” and decades later she remains a subdued but forceful presence, described more recently by the Village Voice as “quietly plugging away since 1986 on women’s and criminal justice issues in the legislature.”

Her efforts have begun to pay off in recent years, with a landmark bill she’d championed for years — a law raising the minimum age of automatic criminal court jurisdiction to 18 — going into effect in late 2018.

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