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.”
“On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted,” the court said in an unsigned opinion.
• 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.
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.
“She has the power to ensure that the kids aren't going back unmonitored,” he said.
He said he and his wife, Louisa, feared CPS might attempt to stall the reunifications as long as possible.
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.
“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.