Local moms group left wondering after member charged with child neglect

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Frank Schultz
December 26, 2015

JANESVILLE—The question of how a Janesville mother could let her infant twins suffer from malnutrition is puzzling and frustrating to many, including people who tried to help her.

Shannon Smith was a member of Mom to Mom, a local Facebook group where mothers and others who care for children go for advice and support.

Smith documented her pregnancy—which included significant health problems—and many of the moms in the group followed her story closely, said Ashley Ranum, the site's administrator.

Now, “there are a lot of concerned moms that are thinking a lot about her kids,” Ranum said.

As The Gazette reported earlier, Smith, 24, of 436 Harding St., is charged in Rock County Court with two counts of child neglect causing bodily harm.

Smith's 11-month-old twins were diagnosed with malnutrition and failure thrive after they were found severely underweight and barely able to hold up their heads last summer. They weighed the same at age 11 months as they did at age 2 months, according to court documents.

The twins gained weight after hospital treatment and are now in foster care, as is their 2-year-old sister, according to court documents.

Smith has pleaded not guilty. A trial is scheduled for March 28.

Mom to Mom members were stunned by the news after all they had heard from Smith before and after the birth.

“It was like a soap opera. Something was always going on. … I got so interested in her story that I friend-requested her on Facebook. A lot of other moms did, too,” Ranum said.

Smith seemed to like the attention, Ranum said.

Some moms offered her help. She didn't respond to some, and set up meetings with others, but Smith did not show up, Ranum said.

Some who offered help are now angry with Smith, while others wonder what actually happened, Ranum said.

“I had a bad feeling about her posts in the past! Poor babies!” one mom said on the Facebook group.

“It seems like something really bad had to happen to her because she loved those babies and would've done anything for them in the beginning. This is just so bizarre,” another posted.

Several said the photos Smith posted were troubling, but they thought the twins' appearance was because they were born prematurely.

Rock County authorities have filed suit, seeking court orders requiring child support from Smith and children's father, who did not live with the family.

The father, who earns $400 a week, was ordered Nov. 13 to pay $85 a week in child support and to pay a portion of birth expenses, court records indicate.

The lawsuit quotes state records saying Smith earned $1,701 in 2014, when she was dealing with a difficult pregnancy. She told police the twins had kidney and bladder problems, and she underwent several surgeries.

The state showed no income for Smith this year. Her largest earning total in the past four years was $8,722 in 2012.

But Smith apparently had food for her children. She showed a police officer “a large container of formula,” and she said the twins are constantly eating, according to the criminal complaint.

Smith told officers the twins consumed 7 to 8 ounces of formula six to eight times a day, and she had started feeding them vanilla yogurt and baby cereal, the complaint states.

Smith was pretty much alone in caring for her three children. When asked who helps her, she said her mother stops by periodically, “however mom uses oxygen and has had more medical issues recently,” the complaint states.

Smith told officers her father gives her money for rent.

The Gazette asked Rock County Human Services Director Charmian Klyve whether Smith had received any assistance, but Klyve said medical-confidentiality law forbids the release of any information.

Smith told a detective the twins were born at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison, five weeks prematurely. Each weighed about 5 pounds at birth.

She said one spent 13 days in the hospital, the other 20 days.

Smith told officers the twins weighed about 5 pounds each at birth. She said she took them to their eight-week checkup at Beloit Clinic, and they were fine, if somewhat underweight, according to the complaint.

She told officers she believes the father took the twins to their six-month checkup, but she did not know details about that.

Police could not find records at Beloit Clinic other than the eight-week checkup.

“The defendant stated that the twins do eat very well, and she is under the assumption that they are small and underweight because of the fact that they were premature and had so much difficulty prior to birth,” the complaint states.

But the twins had gained almost no weight seven months after their eight-week checkup, the complaint states.

American Family Children's Hospital in Madison told police the twins were diagnosed as having “non-organic failure to thrive due to environmental and medical neglect.”

Notes from the hospital to police said the twins' lack of weight gain is consistent with “chronic, severe malnutrition. …

“It is clear that a reasonable care-giver would be able to note that the child did not appear developmentally appropriate for her age and that the fact that no medical attention was sought is consistent with a diagnosis of medical neglect,” the complaint states.

The twins gained weight quickly under medical care and were healthy enough to be released from the hospital about a month after they were discovered in their Janesville home, the complaint states.

Online postings show members of the Mom to Mom group were divided in the days after the story broke.

Some said Smith deserves no mercy.

Others wondered what unknown details might have caused the tragedy.

“As a foster parent, this situation is more common than we all think. … Many times parents are overwhelmed and have so many other struggles (mental illness, drug/alcohol abuse, etc.),” another Mom to Mom member wrote.

Several members said the father, who alerted police to the situation July 10, bears some responsibility.

“There has to be something going on there. No one in their right mind is going to do that,” Ranum said.

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