Proposed law would make it easier for state to charge child neglect

Published: Jul. 6, 2017 at 9:40 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- The proposal would allow the state to charge parents with felony child neglect if they expose their children to the distribution, manufacture or use of drugs but some are saying that won't help fix families.

Ken Goldsby of Deforest has been fighting a custody battle over his 7-year-old daughter Kyrene with his ex-girlfriend Brittany Pearson for years.

According to documents sent to him by Dane County Human Services, in March, a man overdosed and died in Pearson's home. NBC15 confirmed a death at that location, at that time, but was told by the Dane County Medical Examiner that a toxicology report is still pending.

Goldsby says Kyrene was there and witnessed what happened.

"My child could have died that night when she saw the guy drug overdosed on the ground. She could have put the needle in her arm," Goldsby said.

Goldsby and Pearson still shared custody of Kyrene. One month later, according to a police report, another overdose occurred in Pearson's home. This time, police say, Pearson's boyfriend overdosed on what Pearson said was heroin, while their three children were in the home. He was revived with noloxone. The report says Pearson also overdosed and received the reversal drug later that night. She was charged with possession of narcotics, resisting an officer and three counts of misdemeanor child neglect.

Kyrene was staying with Goldsby the night of the incident.

The three children that were home at the time were put in to the protection of child services. Eventually, Goldsby was given full custody of Kyrene.

Goldsby says too much had to happen in the presence of his daughter and Pearson's other children for them to be taken out of Pearson's care. He says he thinks something in the system needs to change.

The proposal State Sen. Rob Cowles and Rep. Cody Horlacher introduced, supported by Attorney General Brad Schimel, would change parts of that system.

The proposal would make it easier for courts to charge guardians for felony child neglect. Currently in Wisconsin, felony neglect can only be charged to guardians whose neglect caused the death of a child.

The proposal includes the failure to protect a child from the "exposure to the distribution, manufacture or use of controlled substances," as grounds for charging some level of felony child neglect.

"For a person that is using a dangerous drug like heroin, it can result in a lot of different forms of neglect. I could just be that a parent is so checked out that they're not making sure there's any food in the house," Attorney General Brad Schimel says.

Julie Ahnen, the manager of Child Protective Services of Dane County says while she agrees with some parts of the legislation, like creating a system for charging different levels of felony crimes related to neglect, she does not believe putting parent addicts in jail will fix families.

"The language around it doesn't address is the underlying issues that contribute to neglect; poverty, homelessness, addiction," Ahnen says.

She says those parents should be given ample access to services to get help with some of those issues instead of being criminalized for them, except for in the most extreme cases.

Attorney General Schimel says the proposed law would allow Child Protective Services to first intervene with parents before felony neglect charges were considered.

"We're not just trying to catch more people in our net but we're trying to be able to effectively prosecute the ones that need to be," Attorney General Schimel says.

NBC15 did reach out to Brittany Pearson for a comment. We were able to get in touch with Brittany's mother who said Brittany is doing much better after her overdose and is working to get clean and healty, but recovery is a long process.

The proposal has not yet come up for a public hearing. Attorney General Schimel says he's still confident that it could see the floor for a vote this year.

Copyright 2017: WMTV