Children of polygamous sect to be reunited with parents
Texas Supreme Court's ruling will complicate state's investigation into sexual abuse, experts say.
Some 450 children who were removed from the Yearning for Zion ranch, run by a polygamous sect in east Texas, will be returning home soon – some possibly as early as Monday. In a tentative agreement released in court Friday, parents who pledge to take parenting classes and remain in Texas can get their children back. The agreement followed a ruling by the Supreme Court of Texas on Thursday that the children should be reunited with their parents. The ruling doesn't stop the state's ongoing investigations into alleged abuse charges perpetrated by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), but it will make continuing them more difficult,experts say.Skip to next paragraph
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The courts' actions also will force the state's Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to change the family-service plans – the details of what parents must do to reunite with their children – that some parents had already agreed to.
"One of the reasons [DFPS] tried to remove all the children from the ranch is because it's very difficult to investigate [abuse charges] when the child's in the home, and they're not going to want to go through this again – remove the children from the homes to have them sent back," says Ellen Marrus, co-director of the Center for Children, Law & Policy at the University of Houston. "So the investigation will probably end."
DFPS officials removed 468 children from the FLDS's 1,691-acre ranch near Eldorado, Texas, in early April. Two weeks later, state District Judge Barbara Walther ruled that there was evidence to indicate the children were at risk of sexual abuse if they returned to the ranch. Instead, she ordered that the children be sent to foster care facilities around the state.
The sect is known to sanction "spiritual marriages" of underage girls, usually to older men who already have one wife or more. The state originally said 30 of the 53 girls in custody believed to be minors (some girls gave conflicting accounts of their ages), either had children, were pregnant, or both. That number has since been lowered to about a dozen young women.
Last week, an appeals court reversed the earlier ruling. It found that the DFPS illegally removed the children from their homes and that they should be immediately returned. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court agreed. "On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted," the 6-to-3 majority said.
The parents of the children were overjoyed by Thursday's decision, their attorneys said.