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Abused Children Billed in Dad’s Care

March 25, 2001

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SPARTA, N.J. (AP) _ Chrissy McMickle was 5 when her father began molesting her. Afterward, he would give her ice cream and warn her not to tell anyone. Michael McMickle was 5 when the sexual abuse began, 7 when the beatings started.

Michael eventually told a neighbor, and their father, Nelden McMickle, went to jail for more than eight years.

This year, the state moved Nelden McMickle to a psychiatric facility _ and said the children he abused would have to pay part of the $90,000 annual bill.

``Children are legally responsible for parents in state facilities,″ Sussex County adjuster Joanne Baker wrote in a Jan. 12 letter to Michael McMickle, now 21.

Michael was outraged. ``Why should I have to pay for him?″ he demanded.

The answer lies in an obscure 1918 state law meant to make relatives responsible for part of the cost of court-ordered hospital commitments.

A separate law passed in 1993 resulted in the elder McMickle being sent to the Ann Klein Forensic Center in Trenton after he finished his prison term last year. The law allows the state to commit sex offenders it deems to be still a threat to society after their prison terms are over.

The law that requires family members to help pay for court-ordered care doesn’t make exceptions for cases where children are victims of the relative’s abuse.

``We’ve never had a case like this where two kids who are abused are being asked to pay for their abuser’s care,″ said Pam Ronan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services.

Ronan said Michael McMickle, who has worked as a mechanic and a house framer, didn’t earn enough money to be required to contribute to his father’s care. Eighteen-year-old Chrissy McMickle would not be charged until she finishes high school or college, Ronan said.

State officials have decided that if the siblings appeal the assessment, they will not be charged, Ronan said.

But the law’s existence still requires a letter to the family every year asking them to submit their tax returns to determine how much they might be liable for their father’s care.

``They’re going to come after us every year until the law is changed,″ Michael McMickle said.

After four years of therapy, a new home with an aunt and uncle and a slow reconciliation between brother and sister, the state’s order has given new life to old pain and rage.

Michael says his father first came into his room at night when he was 5.

Michael said he hated his sister for years because he felt that she was favored, while he was forced to cook his own meals and was shipped to relatives at Christmas. He realized both were being mistreated when he walked in on his father abusing his sister.

Chrissy said her father came into her room at night twice a week when she was 5 and sexually assaulted her. The abuse continued until she was 8 and her father was arrested.

The siblings believe their mother, who later divorced McMickle, knew about the abuse.

Nelden McMickle pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault of both his children in 1992 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, Assistant Sussex County Prosecutor Michael Briegel said. McMickle’s attorney at the time, Bruce Farrier, did not return a telephone call from The Associated Press.

The siblings have hired a lawyer to lobby for a change in the 1918 law. Republican state Assemblywoman Rose Heck, who cosponsored the 1993 legislation that required McMickle to be committed, said she is working on a revision.

Whatever happens with the law, Michael McMickle is adamant that he won’t contribute to his father’s care.

``I’d rather go to jail than pay,″ he said.

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