Utah Parents Who Fed Children Marijuana Charged with Endangerment of a Child

Two young children who were fed marijuana have been taken into protective custody after their parents were charged with endangerment of a child.

Concerned extended family

Extended family members contacted the Utah Division of Child and Family Services concerned for the welfare of the young children of 28 year old Jacob Francis Sickler and 40 year old Katie Jennifer Blackham. Family members told DCFS the young children were not well cared for and were being exposed to drugs by their parents. The parents were reported to have regularly used drugs near their children and in order to implement “quiet time”, had even fed their kids marijuana. The 3 and 4 year old children were removed by DCFS and a hair follicle test concluded they had marijuana and cocaine in their system. Their parents were arrested for child abuse and endangerment of a child.

Endangerment of a child

According to Utah Code 76-5-112.5, a person is guilty of a second degree felony “ . . . if the person knowingly or intentionally causes or permits a child or a vulnerable adult to be exposed to, inhale, ingest, or have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia [and] as a result . . . a child or vulnerable adult suffers bodily injury, substantial bodily injury, or serious bodily injury”. Since there were two children exposed to drugs, Sickler and Blackham will face one second degree felony for each child affected. Second degree felonies are punishable under Utah law with a possible prison term of one to 15 years for each charge as well as a fine up to $10,000 per charge.

Division of Family and Child Services

The children of Sickler and Blackham were taken into protective custody by DCFS but may be released to those family members concerned for their well-being if DCFS determines it is in the best interest of the children. According to the Utah Department of Human Services, the mission of DCFS is: “To keep children safe from abuse and neglect and provide domestic violence services by working with communities and strengthening families.” They offer parenting and other educational classes for families in an effort to prevent DCFS from having to get involved in familial affairs. When instances involving abuse or neglect arise however, DCFS will step in and remove the children from the home.

Reconnecting families

While some families dealing with criminal charges for drug abuse have family members who can step in and care for their children, others do not. In these situations, the children are then placed in foster care. DCFS states: “Foster care is a temporary intervention for children who are unable to remain safely in their homes. Children in foster care stay with a family who provides safety, nurturing, and support. Every effort is made to keep children with their families unless the safety needs of the children or legal mandates indicate otherwise.” Utah Foster Care also notes: “The primary goal of foster care is to provide a nurturing home for children until it is safe for them to return to their biological families. When it is safe to do so, returning home is best for the children.” All parents make mistakes some make choices so grave they lose their freedom and parental rights. While this loss can be permanent if the charges they face are severe, it is often temporary. The state of Utah wants to keep families together and offers support and treatment opportunities for parents, including those fighting substance abuse. Parents who are facing criminal charges where their parental rights are threatened are encouraged to seek a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who can help guide them through the legal process of obtaining rehabilitation and reunification.

Mental Health Issues and Criminal Behavior

As the link between mental health issues and criminal behavior is being researched, disorders such as depression and schizophrenia that were previously taboo to speak about are finally being seen and discussed as actual medical conditions needing attention and treatment.

An empty threat

Photo by: Thomanication

Photo by: Thomanication

On Monday, 35 year old Eagle Mountain resident Christopher Dewitt Craig drove to his 9 year old daughter’s elementary school and demanded the school be evacuated; afterwards telling police there were explosives in his vehicle. Following a delivery of an unknown message to police, Craig was arrested without incident and was booked on charges including: making terrorist threats; disrupting operations of a school; and disorderly conduct. His arrest and bail of $25,000 stands even though authorities didn’t discover a single trace of explosives or any weapons on Craig’s person, in his vehicle, or even at his home.

Downward spiral

Contrary to a public outcry of a suspect making a terrorist threat on an elementary school, the community along with those who know Craig personally are calling the incident sad and tragic; a life that spiraled out of control due to mental health issues. Before plunging into criminal and irrational behavior, Craig had a promising career in basketball; both as a player and then as a coach. He was a star basketball player in the 90’s during his high school years at Horizon High School in Phoenix Arizona, later playing for the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). His path then changed from player to coach after he landed a job as the very young head coach for Utah State University Eastern. After two other coaching positions with the last being at Midland College in Texas, Craig left while suffering with mental health issues including schizophrenia. His life quickly went downhill as he struggled with drugs and extremist thinking. He is now facing the possibility of 15 years or more in prison.

Mental health issues and criminal behavior

Mental Health Issues

Photo by: Alachua County

Having an illness such as schizophrenia does not make a person a violent or dangerous criminal. More often than not, those suffering from untreated mental health issues will do nothing more than struggle privately and isolate themselves, withdrawing from family and friends. Very few sufferers get the medical help they need as they do not speak openly about their struggles. Some choose to end their misery with suicide; other may attempt to numb the pain with substance abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), “Individuals with overt, mild, or even subclinical mental disorders may abuse drugs as a form of self-medication.” NIH also stated that “Patients with schizophrenia have higher rates of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug abuse than the general population.” Many mental health issues make it difficult to make healthy, everyday choices. Substance abuse can further hinder a person’s ability to think clearly and act accordingly. Mix the two together along with decreased support of loved ones and you have a recipe for disaster that can lead to criminal behavior.

SAMHSA

With mental health issues and/or substance abuse, early detection and treatment is key for preventing lives from being turned upside down such as what has happened with Christopher Craig. Fortunately, there are resources available to help those who are struggling with mental illness or drugs; one of those is SAMHSA. According to their website, “The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.” They state: “SAMHSA Strategic Initiatives help provide treatment and services for people with mental and substance use disorders, support the families of people with mental and substance use disorders, build strong and supportive communities, prevent costly behavioral health problems, and promote better health for all Americans.” For anyone who is or who knows someone who is struggling mentally or with substance abuse, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. For more information contact the Department of Health in your area. If legal help is needed for criminal charges, contact an experienced defense attorney.