LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - When it comes to protecting children, social workers and law enforcement officials in Wisconsin could soon have more power, thanks to a bill that would strengthen and redefine child neglect laws in the state of Wisconsin.
Under current state statute, penalties are in place for parents or guardians who are accused of child abuse or neglect, but prosecutors haven't been able to charge parents with endangerment because it is not included in the state statute.
By passing the Drug Endangerment Children Bill, officials hope to clarify the neglect language to include endangerment, so services can be provided to kids before neglect or abuse takes place.
Police have had their eyes on a house in the Town of Fairview for about eight months and carried out a search warrant last week. While searching the house, police officers found many items associated with manufacturing and selling methamphetamines, as well as two young children who lived there.
According to a Crawford County Sheriff's Office press release, at the scene they found remnants of several "one-pot" methamphetamine labs that suggest that the manufacturing of methamphetamines has been happening for quite a while.
In that case, those two kids could have been exposed to the manufacturing and selling of meth for a long time. Jessie Fortuna, a case manager with CASA For Kids in La Crosse, said it's a situation they see all too often.
"We do track how cases come in and what are some of the elements in each case and drug use has definitely made all of our case loads much higher," said Fortuna.
Now state legislators are stepping in with a new bill that would allow social workers and law enforcement agencies more flexibility when dealing with child endangerment cases.
"If parents don't request services or abuse and neglect aren't substantiated, even if there was drug use in the home, it doesn't necessarily mean a case can be opened," said Fortuna.
Sen. Jennifer Shilling said it's all about doing what's best for the children.
"It is strengthening state statues and really doing some clarification on the neglect language for children who find themselves in really dangerous situations where their parents or main caregivers or guardians are producing and manufacturing drugs," said Shilling.
"Hopefully with the drug endangered child legislation, social workers will have more leniency on what they can get involved in each child protective service case," said Fortuna.
Many hope they can intervene sooner rather than later.
"It's about children's safety and getting them into a healthy environment, but also having the tools for law enforcement to prosecute those parents who are endangering their children," said Shilling.
The Drug Endangered Children Bill was voted out of committee last Thursday on a 5-0 vote and is expected to be debated in the full state Senate on Tuesday.
Shilling said with strong bipartisan support from the Senate and Assembly, it could hit Gov. Scott Walker's desk this spring.
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