A La Crosse couple is charged with neglecting and injuring a 3-year-old girl -- allegedly fracturing her hands and feet.
The toddler's father, 23-year-old Dustin Barnes, and his girlfriend, 20-year-old Josie Dikeman, have been charged with being party to mental harm to a child and child neglect resulting in bodily harm.
Barnes, Dikeman and the 3-year-old lived with three other children and Dikeman's mother and her boyfriend in a home in La Crosse. Barnes, Dikeman and the children lived upstairs, according to the criminal complaint.
The alleged neglect and abuse were discovered by a social worker, who noticed in mid-January the girl was acting differently, losing weight and losing hair.
She brought the toddler to a doctor. What that doctor found launched an investigation.
Barnes' 3-year-old daughter had multiple fractures to her hands and feet.
One fractured toe required a cast.
According to the criminal complaints, doctors said the fractures do not seem to be accidental and are consistent with being hit with a blunt object.
When a nurse asked the toddler how it happened, she indicated Barnes and Dikeman were to blame.
When police interviewed Dikeman's mother, she said Barnes would make the 3-year-old sit at the dinner table until she finished all the food on her plate, which could take 45 minutes. She also told police the young girl was required to sit on the toilet for very long periods of time, anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes.
Dikeman's mother also said the 3-year-old's toys were put on a shelf where she could not get to them and there was a potty in her room because she was rarely let out of the room.
When questioned by investigators, Barnes said he was told his daughter was overweight so they began to portion out her meals for her and if she ate it all she might get a little more. He also told police she was less active and he thought she might be depressed. Dikeman said there was no physical discipline.
The criminal complaints also allege Barnes and Dikeman barely interacted with the toddler and kept her isolated. They also allegedly gave her time-outs lasting up to an hour and a half, and did not give her enough to drink.
La Crosse County Family and Children Services Manager, Nancy Pohlman, said children that young are the most vulnerable to this kind of alleged abuse.
“The most vulnerable children in our community are those who are not yet in systems such as schools. So any child who's under the age of 3 is the most vulnerable because their access is limited and their contact is probably with their primary caregiver 90 percent or more of the time," said Pohlman.
The child was at one point removed from the home and placed into foster care, but was eventually returned to Barnes' and Dikeman's home before this alleged neglect happened.
It's common practice in La Crosse County, where 60 to 70 percent of children placed into foster care are eventually reunited with their parents. Of those reunited, less than 15 percent end up back in foster care within a year.
Pohlman said most children she's worked with want to go back to their parents, no matter how they were treated.
"I've been in child welfare services -- child protection -- for 23 years, and almost all the kids we work with, whether they've been terribly abused or not, want to return to their parents. Because they have an attachment, a bond, feel safe in some regards, or just feel love and connection with the parent and the family," said Pohlman.
Dikeman was released on bond last week.
Barnes is still in La Crosse County Jail.
If convicted, Dikeman could face up to 18 and a half years behind bars.
Barnes could face up to 28 and a half years in prison because he has previous felony convictions.
Their preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 11.