While parents' DNA tested, polygamous sect's kids shuttled off to new homes
SAN ANGELO, Texas - As their parents lined up for genetic tests 45 miles away, some children from a polygamous sect departed for new, temporary homes across Texas.
Buses filled with children ages 5 and older rolled out of the San Angelo Coliseum and Pavilion Tuesday afternoon, hours after 51st District Judge Barbara Walther signed an order sending them to 16 group homes and shelters throughout the Lone Star State.
Some attorneys for the children and parents tried but failed to get the judge to consider a temporary restraining order that would have postponed the move or kept the children within a five-county area while they contest the state's action.
"You have a state that removed over 400 children with very little evidence and no evidence for the young children who have been removed," said attorney Mary Lou Alvarez. "Americans have the right to fair treatment. That hasn't happened here."
The relocation of 437 children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints comes nearly three weeks after a raid on the sect's YFZ Ranch, triggered by allegations of systematic abuse. It is the fourth placement for the children since the investigation began on April 3. Many of the children in emergency shelters will be moved at least once more when the Department of Family and Protective Services identifies appropriate foster homes.
For the second day, state authorities continued swabbing the children's cheeks to gather DNA that will be used to match them to their parents. Investigators say figuring out parentage has been a problem because of FLDS members' reluctance to share personal information.
The state locked down the coliseum and adjacent pavilion as it prepared to move the children. Attorneys, Salvation Army workers and even a spokesman for Texas Child Protective Services were kept out as buses were loaded and driven away under police escort.
Young children and their mothers remained at the coliseum Tuesday night.
Walther said adult mothers will be sent home once the state is ready to move those children. She refused on Monday to allow nursing mothers to stay with their infants and toddlers when they are moved to foster homes.
Walther ordered that mothers who are minors be placed with their babies; pregnant minors will be sheltered in the same locations.
Children under 12 months will be placed in foster homes with siblings who are under 5, she said, and every attempt will be made to place [other] siblings together.
Boys 8 and older are going to Cal Farley's Boys Ranch northwest of Amarillo, where 27 adolescent boys already have been staying.
Walther's order said the specialized needs of the mothers and children have been shared with the care providers, as well as their background and cultural characteristics. CPS will be arranging meetings with those facilities to take care of medical and educational needs, the judge said.
The 16 facilities are located in Amarillo, Abilene, Waxahachie, Houston and elsewhere in the state. They include the Presbyterian Home in Amarillo and another in Waxahachie, the Austin Children's Shelter; and Boys and Girls Country of Houston.
The religion of some of the foster families is a concern for the FLDS, said Salt Lake City attorney Rod Parker, who said he is representing Texas FLDS families.
"There are members of some of these religions that have expressed hostility toward the FLDS religion and the LDS religion," Parker said.
Julie Balovich, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid society, said the children's attorneys requested an emergency hearing with the judge to get information about the placements. Walther declined to give them one.
The attorneys learned about the move only after it had begun.
"The next thing we knew is the restriction was lifted on a five-county area and they were on the bus being moved," said Balovich. "We're very upset. CPS is supposed to be protecting these children from abuse and this has to be the most abusive situation these children have faced."
She said the parents were obviously concerned.
"They don't know who they are going to be housed with or what other children will be there . . . who will be caring for them or if they are going to be able to pray," said Balovich, whose law firm represents around 40 mothers. "They don't know anything.
"My clients would have done anything to have avoided this and they were never given a chance," she said.
"The Texas Child Protective Services are afraid of due process," Parker said. "They know they would lose in court."
Balovich and some other attorneys have said their clients were not named in court documents and thus were never properly brought into the court action.
"None of the allegations discussed in [a two-day hearing last week] applies to them," she said. "The parents have rights and should know before their children are taken away why they are being taken away, and that has not happened."
Where the FLDS children are being placed:
Presbyterian Home in Amarillo
High Sky Children's Ranch, Emergency Shelter
Hendricks Home of Abilene
Assessment Center of Tarrant County/Catholic Charities
Presbyterian Home in Waxahachie
Boys and Girls Country of Houston
Methodist Children's Home
Austin Children's Shelter
Baptist Children's Home Ministries, Emergency Shelter
St. Peter's/St. Joseph, Emergency Shelter
The Children's Shelter
The Ark Assessment Center and Emergency Shelter.