Friday, May 30, 2008

Putting the Genie back into the bottle

Its about time.

Now, do your investigation on a proper family to family basis with no rush to judgment or semi-hysterical need to remove children from families which have apparently done no wrong.

State is set to return children to sect parents
By Janet Elliott and Lisa Sandberg: Express-News

AUSTIN — Child welfare officials began preparations Thursday to reunite more than 450 children with their parents after the state's highest court said their removal from a West Texas polygamist ranch seven weeks ago was illegal.

“We are disappointed, but we understand and respect the court's decision and will take immediate steps to comply,” said Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for Child Protective Services. “We will continue to prepare for the prompt and orderly reunification of these children with their families.”

The Texas Supreme Court's decision upheld a May 22 ruling by the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin. The 3rd Court ruled the state didn't have enough evidence to order into foster care every child who lived at the Yearning for Zion Ranch,
“On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted,” the court said in an unsigned opinion.

It wasn't clear exactly when the children will be returned, and restrictions can be placed on their living arrangements.

CPS attorneys will have to decide whether to go back to court to try to regain custody of some of the children, particularly the underage girls, whose safety has been at the heart of this case.

Child welfare officials have said the teenage girls were at risk of being sexually abused by marriages to older men.

“It is a victory as to returning the children to the families, but it does not mean the case is over,” said Laura Shockley, an attorney who represents some of the children. “It doesn't mean that re-removal of some of the children couldn't occur again.”

Six justices agreed entirely with the decision. Three justices — Harriet O'Neill, Phil Johnson and Don Willett — said they would keep pubescent girls in state custody but return younger girls and boys.

• WHAT HAPPENED: The Texas Supreme Court said Thursday the state didn't have the authority to remove more than 450 children from a West Texas polygamous ranch last month. The order gives the trial judge broad discretion, however, in imposing conditions on their return.
• WHAT'S NEXT: State District Judge Barbara Walther must withdraw her original order that put the children in protective custody. Then she can set conditions, such as barring their removal from a particular jurisdiction or ordering suspected child abusers from having contact with them.

The court ordered District Judge Barbara Walther to withdraw her order giving the state custody of all the children, who are scattered around the state in group homes and shelters.
However, it noted she can place conditions on their return, including requiring them to stay in West Texas and removing abuse suspects from their home.

University of Texas law Professor Jack Sampson said the ruling gives Walther broad discretion to provide greater protections to teenage girls, and that she can make sure CPS has access to children.
“She has the power to ensure that the kids aren't going back unmonitored,” he said.

There was no immediate reaction from Walther's court and no orders had been issued by 5 p.m. Thursday when court offices closed.

Lawyers from Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid and Legal Aid of Northwest Texas represented 43 mothers who challenged the largest custody case in Texas history. Although the appeals decision involved only 129 children, CPS conceded it is expected to apply to all of the children.

Dan Jessop, 24, an elder in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and a father with three small children in state custody, said he was “glad that there is justice in the court system. We look forward to having the children back and continuing our happy lives.”
He said he and his wife, Louisa, feared CPS might attempt to stall the reunifications as long as possible.

Returning the children likely will make it much more difficult for child welfare authorities to continue their investigation into whether youngsters were abused on the remote compound owned by members of the breakaway Mormon group known for its polygamist practices.
Agency officials said they were unable to get clear information from the children when they still were with their mothers in temporary shelters in San Angelo.

CPS is awaiting the results of DNA tests, which Walther ordered to match children with their parents.

A criminal probe also is continuing as investigators sift through more than 900 boxes of material removed from the ranch during the weeklong raid that began April 3.

“They're going to have to return the kids, but this is going to be a fiasco,” said Shockley, an attorney whose FLDS clients include a 26-year-old mother whom CPS insisted was an underage girl until a week ago.

Shockley, a Dallas attorney, said it's not a clean win for FLDS parents.
“Yes, they have to return the children but they, CPS, can put provisions in an order that requires all sorts of monitoring and home studies and that sort of thing,” he said.

Lawyers for the mothers argued that treating all the children who lived at the compound as one household was wrong.

“Instead of focusing on whether each parent engaged in or tolerated the sexual abuse of their children, the (state) put their entire religion on trial,” they said in papers filed to the high court.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the parent agency of CPS, argued that there was sufficient evidence to show a culture where adult men commanded sex from underage children while adult women knowingly allowed such abuse.