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.

Welfare Fraud in Utah

Utah families who are struggling financially may turn to public assistance to help get them through a rough patch; however this system is meant only for those who truly need it and any fraudulent information used to obtain assistance unlawfully may result in welfare fraud.

Public assistance

Photo by: Konstantin Ryabitsev

Photo by: Konstantin Ryabitsev

The State of Utah has a generous welfare program, otherwise known as public assistance, which is defined in Utah Code 35A-1-102 as “services or benefits provide under Chapter 3, Employment Support Act; medical assistance ( . . . ); foster care maintenance payments ( . . . ); SNAP benefits; and any other public funds expended for the benefit of a person in need of financial, medical, food, housing, or related assistance. “

Qualifying factors

Public assistance isn’t for everyone. Many who think they need welfare end up not meeting the requirements. To find out if one qualify for benefits, Utah Code 76-8-1203 states individuals need to provide the following information that will determine whether or not they are eligible for help “including the person’s current:

a) Marital status;

b) Household composition [including immediate family members as well as other persons that make up the household such as roommates or live-in significant others];

c) Employment [even jobs that are paid under the table];

d) Earned and unearned income, as defined by rule [including gambling winnings, alimony, child support, etc.]

e) Receipt of monetary and in-kind gifts that may affect the person’s eligibility; [cash gifts or gifts such as food and household goods that would affect the needs of the client’s family]

f) Assets that may affect the person’s eligibility; [homes, vehicles, stock, gold etc.]”

Welfare fraud

Welfare Fraud

Photo by: Carmella Fernando

When a person does not qualify for benefits, they may choose another route to elevate their financial burden such as help from family, assistance from religious denominations, or changes to employment or living arrangements to accommodate their needs or the needs of their family. Occasionally a person may choose to stretch the truth or flat out lie on the information they disclose when applying for welfare in an attempt to gain access to public assistance they otherwise wouldn’t qualify for. When this is done, or if the person otherwise “uses, transfers, acquires, traffics in, falsifies, or possesses SNAP benefits [or a SNAP card] ( . . . ) in a manner not allowed by law” it is considered welfare fraud, or public assistance fraud, and it is a serious offense.

Criminal penalties

The severity of welfare fraud penalties depends on the total valued amount of the benefits such as cash, food, and medical that were appropriated unlawfully from the public assistance system. According to Utah Code 76-8-1206, it is a

a) “second degree felony if the value is or exceeds $5,000; [which can be anywhere from 1-15 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000]

b) third degree felony if the value is or exceeds $1,500 but is less than $5,000; [up to 5 years and prison and a fine of no more than $5,000]

c) class A misdemeanor if the value is or exceeds $500 but is less than $1,500; [one year maximum in jail and a fine up to $2,500] and

d) class B misdemeanor if the value is less than $500. [up to 6 months in jail and a possible fine of $1,000 or less.]”

Misinformation

Photo by: Jacob Norlund

Photo by: Jacob Norlund

While those who intentionally take advantage of public assistance should expect to face charges of welfare fraud, often it is those who make innocent errors with information that end up in deep water. Some situations which may occur that cause a person to unintentionally commit welfare fraud may include:

• When a qualifying child lives part or full time with the other parent;

• If a significant other moves back into the household;

• A temporary increase of hours at place of employment;

• Side jobs or other self-employed work such as babysitting, house cleaning, and even selling crafts; and

• Using food assistance to pick up grocery items for a friend or non-qualifying relative.

These are just a handful of situations that welfare recipients may find themselves in where they either forget to report it, or are unaware that they are breaking the law. It is important that those who are seeking public assistance are cautious with their answers and ask questions if they are unsure of any rules or if there are terms in which they are unfamiliar with. Additionally, any changes to income or other monetary gains, marital status, household composition or living arrangements, assets, or gifts must be reported immediately. If a person is unsure whether a factor or item should be mentioned, they should report it anyway. For legal counsel regarding charges of welfare fraud, contact a criminal defense attorney.