Texas Wants 8 Polygamist Kids Back in State Care

By Michelle Roberts
Houston Chronicle

August 5, 2008

SAN ANTONIO Texas child welfare authorities asked a judge on Tuesday to place eight children from a West Texas polygamist sect's ranch back into foster care, saying their mothers refuse to limit their contact with men accused of being involved in underage marriages.

Child Protective Services filed petitions asking Texas District Judge Barbara Walther to place the six girls and two boys belonging to four different mothers back in foster care.

The children will be allowed to remain with their mothers until a hearing scheduled for Sept. 25, said CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner.

Separately, the department also requested that the cases involving 32 other children be dropped after CPS found no evidence of underage marriages or the families agreed to take appropriate actions to protect the children.

A call to a spokesman for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which runs the Yearning For Zion Ranch, was not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

CPS has continued its investigation of the 440 children taken from the ranch in Eldorado since the Texas Supreme Court ruled in late May that the children should not have been swept into foster care under a blanket petition and hearing because evidence showed no more than a handful of girls were abused or were at risk of abuse.

Walther had initially ordered all the children taken from the FLDS parents placed in foster care after CPS argued the girls were being forced into underage marriages and sex and the boys were being groomed to be adult perpetrators.

An appeals court and the Supreme Court rejected the reasoning, but the rulings did not preclude CPS from continuing individual investigations or requiring the parents to undergo parenting classes, which were ordered by Walther.

CPS asked mothers of girls ages 10-17 to sign safety plans to protect children from sexual abuse. For children who lived in a home with a man who married underage girls or agreed to an arranged marriage of an underage daughter, the plans included a requirement to keep the children away from the man.

The child welfare cases are separate from an ongoing criminal investigation.

Last month, five men, including jailed FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, were indicted for sexual assault of a child. One of the men also faces an additional charge of bigamy, while the sect's physician faces three misdemeanor counts of failing to report child abuse.

Under Texas law, a girl younger than 17 cannot generally consent to sex with an adult.

The state's bigamy statute applies to legal marriages and to couples who purport to marry, a lower standard adopted in part to target unions like the spiritual marriages practiced by FLDS members.


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