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FLDS children to stay in care of Texas officials pending court hearing

Published April 11, 2008 3:05 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 3:06 PM- SAN ANGELO, Texas - Children removed from a polygamous sect's Texas ranch will remain in facilities here until a scheduled April 17 hearing on their status, officials said Friday.

The 416 children from the YFZ Ranch, accompanied by 139 women, are staying at the Wells Fargo Pavilion and historic Fort Concho.

Kevin Dinnin, incident commander for the sheltering operation, said officials are striving to meet the unique needs of the sect's women and children - from altering menus to emphasize fresh fruit and vegetables to providing specific clothing.

"If they want black socks, I want to make sure they have black socks," he said.

Dinnin said between $25,000 and $30,000 per day is being spent by the Texas Division of Emergency Management to provide 50 staffers; there are separate expenses to provide mobile medical clinics, food, water, showers, toiletries, medication and toys for the children.

"We're providing a clean cool safe environment for our guests and that's what I consider them, our guests," Dinnin said.

A total of more than 500 people are working at the fort, including doctors, nurses and mental health workers.

State education authorities have been asked for clarification on what classes should be provided to the children, most of whom have been home schooled, said Dinnin.

The women and children do not have access to newspapers or televisions, and no efforts are being made to make them available, he said. But some of the women have placed calls outside the fort, and the women "know they can leave," Dinnin said.

"Anyone who has to relocate wants to go home," Dinnin said, adding: "Under the circumstances, they're as happy as they can be."

Texas Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said the agency is taking information from those who have asked for their children. No one is being allowed to visit the children, and no one will be allowed to do so until a judge approves such arrangements, she said.

Meisner said officials are still arranging foster homes, in case they are needed in the future, and will strive to keep sibling groups together.

Authorities are trying to gain the trust of the children, she said. "Even though they have not been safe before, they will be safe with us," Meisner said.

Meisner said fathers are not being allowed to visit. The mothers are staying by choice; it is unusual for the state to bring mothers when taking children into custody, she said.

The women are free to speak, she added. But reporters approaching the facilities recently have been instructed to move away.

The Eldorado ranch is owned by polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, traditionally based in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. The FLDS women are with the children voluntarily and are not in state custody.