Senate Looking for Answers about Dezirae Sheldon and Child Protection

By Steph Machado

Published 03/12 2014 07:00PM

Updated 03/12 2014 07:24PM

MONTPELIER - Lawmakers are looking to prevent a death of a child like Dezirae Sheldon in the future.

The 2-year-old from Poultney died last month. Her stepfather Dennis Duby was charged with her murder. There is an internal and external investigation going on, because DCF had recently returned Dezirae home after her mother, Sandra Duby, was convicted of child abuse by breaking the little girl's legs. Sandra Duby is not suspected in her death.

While it's too late for Dezirae, lawmakers are hoping new legislation could help others.

"I believe there is an important role for the legislature to play in determining whether the current policies and procedures are sufficient to meet our high expectations concerning child protection here in the state of Vermont," said State Sen. John Campbell, the President Pro-Tem. He charged a review panel of seven senators to look into revising Vermont law.

Current child protection law has a hierarchy of custody options for a child removed from his or her home:
1. Custodial Parent
2. Non-Custodial Parent
3. Close Relatives
4. Other Relatives
5. DCF

A judge has to eliminate each option in order of the hierarchy. In the case of Dezirae Sheldon, the judge allowed her to be returned to the first option on the list. State Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) says that hierarchy needs to be looked at.

"Is that always in the best interest of the child?" he asked. "What is in the best interest of the child should be the paramount decision, not what's in the best interest of the custodial parent or any other person." Sen. Sears is one of the chairs of the review panel, along with State Sen. Claire Ayer (D-Addison).

DCF is cooperating with the senate panel, which will continue to meet for the rest of the legislative session.

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