Court Lets CPS End Oversight of 34 FLDS Children

By Lisa Sandberg
Houston Chronicle

August 16, 2008

Child protective agency still will have option to investigate families of the sect

Child Protective Services indicated last week that it would no longer pursue legal action against the parents of 34 children because the agency felt they were not in immediate danger. On Friday, State District Judge Barbara Walther agreed to the motion, without comment.

Friday's court action doesn't mean CPS ends its involvement with the 10 families of the 34 children, all members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a group that allegedly practices underage marriage.

CPS may still investigate the families or deliver services.

The child protective agency typically drops custody cases either when a thorough investigation leads them to believe no abuse occurred, or when they conclude that despite past abuse, a caregiver can now protect a child without the court's help, said CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner.

Meisner said she could not discuss the specific reasons for CPS's decision to ask for an end to court oversight, nor the ages or gender of the 34 children.

In early April, CPS seized more than 440 of the children from the polyamists' Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado after receiving a tip that an underage girl had been forced to marry an older man and bear his children. The call is now believed to be a hoax.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled two months later that the state had overstepped its authority and ordered the agency to return the children.

Since the children were returned, five FLDS men, including the group's imprisoned leader, Warren Jeffs, have been charged with felony counts of sexual abusing a child. A sixth, the group's doctor, was charged with three misdemeanor counts of failing to report child abuse.

Last week, armed with new evidence, the agency returned to court to again seek custody, but this time only of eight children, six girls and two boys ages 5 to 17. The agency said it was doing so either because they lived in households that refused to condemn underage marriages or were actively involved in the practice.

Walthers will hold hearings on that request beginning Monday in San Angelo.

CPS is still deciding what to do with the 400 or so pending cases.

Willie Jessop, a spokesman for the FLDS, could not immediately be reached for comment. The FLDS is not associated with mainstream Mormonism, which denounced polygamy more than a century ago.



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