Archive for Thursday, June 5, 2008

Child protection

A Texas court’s contention that a few cases of underage sex doesn’t justify removal of all children from a religious sect’s ranch raises some troubling questions.

June 5, 2008


Child welfare laws in most states express a significant preference for keeping children in their homes or in the custody of biological family members, if at all possible.

There are times, however, when returning children to a questionable family situation clearly is not in their best interests. It remains to be seen whether Texas officials have done the right thing by ordering about 400 children back to a ranch operated by a polygamist religious sect. In the meantime, the welfare of these children certainly demands close monitoring by the child welfare system.

The children were placed in foster care about two months ago amid allegations of underage girls being forced into marriages and sexual relations with older men in the sect. DNA samples have been taken from one of the leaders of the sect as part of an investigation into underage sex with girls ages 12 to 15 at the ranch. The sect leader has been convicted as an accomplice to rape in Utah and is in an Arizona jail awaiting trial on similar charges.

No group should be persecuted for practicing its religious beliefs - unless those beliefs involve illegal activity such as sexual abuse of underage children. The children were removed from the Texas ranch and placed in foster care because there was evidence that illegal activity was occurring there.

The Texas Supreme Court's decision last week to return children to the ranch seems to underestimate the potential threat. The court ruled that the state had overreached by taking all the children from the ranch when prosecutors had failed to show that more than five teenage girls had been sexually abused.

How many cases of abuse does it take? If the case involved eight girls, would the ranch be deemed an unsafe place for younger children? Maybe 10 cases of potential abuse? And how many more cases might occur while this investigation is ongoing?

This investigation obviously has been unsettling and difficult for the young children involved. The law is not wrong for wanting to return those children to their biological mothers, but the state also needs to weigh family interests against the safety of the children.

Perhaps returning the children to the Texas ranch won't hamper the investigation of this group's activities or endanger any of the children involved. If, however, any underage children are harmed as a result of the court's decision to place them back in this environment, the outcry from the people of Texas should be long and loud.


fan4kufootball 9 years, 11 months ago

Its seem to me that the state(s) can't win for losing. They are either dogged for jumping the gun on call that claims abuse or they are dogged for not acting on a call when something has happened. Seems like everyone has 20/20 hindsite.

Corey Williams 9 years, 11 months ago

"Just a way to discriminate against those who have different beliefs."Yes as long as you believe that it's alright to "marry" teenage girls. And if you believe it's alright to throw out the boys just so you can keep all your "wives" to yourself."If they were homosexuals, this would be a different story."Yes it would. Mainly because there wouldn't be teenage girls getting "married" and bearing children from men old enough to be their father.

Ragingbear 9 years, 11 months ago

How much spin does it take to ignore the fact that idiots jumped the gun, based a raid on a prank phone call, and after 2 months have virtually no evidence that said abuses happened?

Frank Smith 9 years, 11 months ago

There's no question that the state blew this case. Removal requires diligence, a solid case that the individual child has been harmed or is in danger of abuse or neglect and presentation of verifiable facts in court. Child protection agencies typically are poorly run, sometimes staffed by amateurs. I can't imagine that the Texas agency was not overwhelmed by the magnitude of this case, and by its own limitations.None of that means that harm was not occuring, nor that intervention has been sufficient to prevent future harm.In the Texas Supreme Court 6-3 decision, three dissenting justices agreed that the district court did not err in electing to remove pubescent girls from the ranch and keep them in state custody. The pubescent girls are "demonstrably endangered," Justice Harriet O'Neill wrote. FLDS leader and self-proclaimed "prophet" Warren Jeffs, 52, is in a prison, serving two consecutive terms of five years to life, convicted on two charges of being an accomplice to rape in connection with a marriage he performed in 2001. He still faces trial in Arizona on eight charges, including sexual conduct with a minor, incest and conspiracy. In addition to the YFZ Ranch, the FLDS is prevalent in the twin border communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. Here's a good story on the incredible damage this inbreeding has promulgated: attorney Barbara Elias-Perciful has been a guardian ad litem -- an attorney representing children's interests -- in child protection cases for 16 years and directs Texas Lawyers for Children."This case involves the systematic rape of minor children -- conduct that is institutionalized and euphemistically called 'spiritual marriage,'" she wrote. "Typically, there is no media coverage of the horrific acts sexual predators commit against children ... if the media showed the actual events of adult males demanding sex with 11-year-old girls, there would be no one questioning the graphic danger of returning these children to their home at this time." The New York Times covered these Arizona communities extensively. Not only were very young girls forced into marriages to close relatives, the community existed on welfare payments and thefts from state school funding.Sorry to hear that poster Raging Bear, that upstanding member of the "conservative" community, is against intervention in pedophilia and Kook-Aid drinking.

gr 9 years, 11 months ago

Just a way to discriminate against those who have different beliefs. If they were homosexuals, this would be a different story.Wonder how this will affect the children's opinion towards government.

notajayhawk 9 years, 11 months ago

Five alleged cases of abuse (with the suspect already incarcerated), remove 400 children from their homes? And the editorial writer thinks this is a good idea?Gee, Mr. editor, if 1-1/4% of children in single-parent homes are abused, I guess we should take away all the kids from single mothers? How about if 1-1/4% of the kids in a particular ethnic group were abused?I understand the concept of being better safe than sorry. But I have also seen the damage caused to countless families who have had to engage in a battle that can drag on for years fighting a horribly convoluted bureaucracy for the right to raise or even have contact with their children when it turned out they'd done nothing wrong.Other than the general ideology that our kids are better off being raised by the state than by their families, I'm at a loss to understand the award-winning LJW's editor's position on this one. It's sadly amusing that the newspaper who constantly rails against the government trodding on personal liberties (and heaven forbid the government have the audacity to subpoena information from the press) should think that the government had grounds to break up so many families here.

ConcernedDad 9 years, 11 months ago

How many cases of abuse does it take? If the case involved eight girls, would the ranch be deemed an unsafe place for younger children? Maybe 10 cases of potential abuse? And how many more cases might occur while this investigation is ongoing?As far as I can tell, these five cases of "abuse" amount to four 17-year-old mothers and one 16-year old mother. On that evidence Judge Walther ripped 440 children away from their mothers.If the LJWorld editors have more detailed or different information about these five cases, I would love to see it.

notajayhawk 9 years, 11 months ago

kugrad (Anonymous) says: "Just yesterday the court returned a 16 year old to her mother on the condition she not go to the compound, have contact with the sect leader, or have contact with the man at the compound who allegedly sexually assaulted her. So, they are finding things."Actually, the case you mentioned illustrates exactly what was wrong with the mass removal of the children - why wasn't that option (not going back to the compound) offered to the mother in the first place instead of just yanking the child away?

kugrad 9 years, 11 months ago

You act to protect children first, then ask questions. The concerns were legitimate. The poster who said they have no evidence must not read or watch the news. They have found cases of abuse. The leader of the sect is also in jail for his role in abuse, so this isn't some crazed persecution. Children have rights to, and not being sexually exploited in the name of religion is one of them. Just yesterday the court returned a 16 year old to her mother on the condition she not go to the compound, have contact with the sect leader, or have contact with the man at the compound who allegedly sexually assaulted her. So, they are finding things. Also, no one can factually state the the phone calls that started this were a prank. It could easily be the case that that person was removed from the compound by sect members and is being abused elsewhere. There is a difference between freedom of religion and freedom to form a cult and abuse your children. Polygamy is also against the law in case you haven't noticed. Strange how the extreme right is so freaked about about gay marriage but not at all disturbed by polygamy.

karmaxs3 9 years, 11 months ago

All you self righteous people are so far removed from this kind of lifestyle. Come out west and live among these people and you will see the abuse to their children first hand. Did you know that when little girls are born their names are placed into the "Book of Joy" for later reference of the "prophets"? The book of joy. How insanely ironic. These men are, for the most part and in general, sexist, abusive, and selfish. Another little factoid for you....women of this religion are not allowed into Heaven unless their husband invites them in. Now there's a great way to keep your woman doing what you want, don't you think? It's really too sad that the judge ordered those kids back. They might have had a real chance at a happy life outside that compound. The boys who will become disposable, and the girls who will become mothers as soon as they menstruate. Yes, that sounds happy.

denak 9 years, 11 months ago

As a foster parent and as someone with a legal background, I have read and watched a lot of what has been going on, viewing it from two different angles.The Texas court was correct even though I do not agree with the decision.In in Kansas...a child can only be removed from his or her own if they are in IMMINENT danger of sexual or physical abuse. In Kansas, a child must be removed within 24 hours for physical and sexaual abuse. 48 hrs in for neglect or abandonment. Texas is much the same. The key word in all of this is the word "imminent."Were all 460 children in imminent danger of being h armed? No, they weren't. You can't remove a child from a home simply because something might happen next week, next month, next year....or 5 years down the road.Secondly, the teenage girls that were married were married prior to Texas changing the marriageable age to 16. So, even though it is gross to us that a `14 year old is getting married to a 40 year old, there wasn't a law broken.Lasty, the first avenue Child Protective Services tries when a child enters foster care, is reunification. Prior to even entering foster care, CPS tries to help the family. If the parent doesn't follow through with the case plan, the child goes into foster care, where they then try for reunification. This is basically where they are now. These children never would have been permanantly taken away from their parents. All of these children, except for maybe a few cases, would have gone home. What the state is doing now,is what they should have done to begin with. If these parents do not go through with the court mandated requirements ie parenting classes, 24 hour access, therapy etc, then CPS can, and should, take the individual child away.As for CPS jumping the gun, they were acting in good faith so legally they were justified in doing what they did even if it turns out that the original calls were a hoax.Dena

MerryQuaker 9 years, 11 months ago

The editorial correctly assumes that there are several issues evident here.One is the obligation of the law to protect children (and other vulnerable folk) within the framework of existing statute.Another, is the issue of religious freedom and tolerance as prescribed by the ideals of our Constitution.Where I take issue is in the statement that the authorities had "evidence" of abuse and therefore, legally removed the children. That statement is not entirely accurate. The authorities may very well have had evidence of abuse of certain children. . . they did not have legal justification for the removal of 400+ children. Those remaining 400 some children were removed on the basis of "guilt by association." That is very frightening to me.The underlying current of public opinion seems to reflect this notion: Because we do not understand this sect, and because we find them "wierd," and because there are some who violate the law within the sect, . . .therefore, we must attack ALL members equally and the "evidence" against certain individuals then justifies guilt on the part of all individuals.I might point out that this faulty logic has historically been the justification of some truly totalitarian brutality in American History. . . think "anti-communist," "think japanese internment camps," "think Guantanamo." When I consider it; it is disturbing to think how easily we, as a polity, are drawn into wrong by our ignorance based biases.

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