Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What a mess

What a mess this is going to turn out to be for the State of Texas is my prediction.

Nothing is clear at this point as to child abuse, the so-called child outcry came from a 30+ year old woman, who apprently has a history of making these kinds of calls, and was not in or from the "compound".

The State has an obligation to see this through as there may have been instances of abuse, but at what price?

Keeping parents and kids apart for a minimum of a year or more?

FLDS lawyers pan custody rules
By Terri Langford and Lisa Sandberg: Express-News

SAN ANGELO — Attorneys for parents belonging to a polygamist sect criticized Texas Child Protective Services on Monday for trying to broker reconciliation plans that were short on specifics and long on requirements that could be impossible to complete.

“This plan is so vague and so broad my client has no idea what she's to do now,” said Donna Guion, attorney for Sharon Barlow, one of the many wives of imprisoned Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints prophet Warren Jeffs.

Barlow, who has a 6-year-old son with Jeffs, was the first of hundreds of parents scheduled to appear at three weeks of hearings before five judges at the Tom Green County Courthouse designed to inform the judicial system about the progress made in each child's case.

Barlow's child is one of 463 initially taken from the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch on April 4 and 5 after CPS determined that some underage girls were forced to have sex with older men through “spiritual marriages” and that all the children were either abused or at risk of abuse.
Barlow's son is one of 10 children in CPS custody belonging to Jeffs, who was convicted in Utah as an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry a 19-year-old.

More polygamist sect coverage
Read more stories about the polygamist sect case• Forum: Polygamist case• Graphic: Map of the YFZ RanchBeliefs of the FLDS• GoSanAngelo.com: Continuing coverage of polygamist case, including court documents and photos

Since last week, CPS officials have begun publicly stressing that reuniting the children with their parents is the ultimate goal in this case, just as it is in every abuse case.

“The goal is reunification, and we're going to do what we can to make sure this happens,” said Patrick Crimmins, CPS spokesman.

But attorneys for parents and children insist that CPS' “family service plans” are unworkable, as they are not tailored for specific families, had little input from parents and, in some cases, drafted hours before Monday's hearings.

“I believe this plan was made by someone in Austin who doesn't know these children and has never met these children,” said Thomas H. Morris, attorney for Richard Jessop, father of six children in CPS custody.

The agency defended what FLDS spokesman Rod Parker called “cookie-cutter” service plans, insisting the plans are merely a starting point for both sides.

Like the chaotic initial mass hearing of all 463 cases last month, these status hearings in which parents are supposed to say whether they are willing to comply with requirements from the state — submitting to psychological evaluations, a willingness to move into a home outside the ranch and attend parenting classes — were bogged down by challenges from attorneys.

Since the initial raid, two more children have been born and several “disputed minor” girls have now been ruled adults, bringing the ever-changing total of children in care to 465.
Several parents refused to sign the plan.

Other requirements, like forcing Barlow to undergo an educational evaluation to find out how much schooling she had — not her child — was viewed by Guion as extraordinary and not necessary.

Eventually, both sides agreed to meet to hammer out a better, more specific plan.
In state District Judge Ben Woodward's courtroom, the questions came fast and furious at CPS supervisor Karrie Emerson from several attorneys representing the six children belonging to parents Sarah and James Jessop.

The Jessops' case highlighted how sibling groups are so spread out they make compliance to service plans that will require interacting with their children nearly impossible.
Emerson seemed unfazed when confronted with the fact that the Jessops' six children were spread out among foster homes in four different parts of Texas: Waco, Houston, Liverpool and Amarillo.

“Most of the children we deal with are oftentimes split up because of the problems with foster care placements,” Emerson said.

Crimmins said the agency tries its best to put all siblings together when possible, but emphasized that from early on, the information from both parents and children about whom they belong to has made the job difficult. State workers have reported that both have given incorrect names and relationships from one another. Sect members say that simply is not true, that they only tried to correct CPS when the agency had incorrect names.

Also, attorneys for the parents zeroed in on the fact that CPS officials listed concerns over the children's home-schooling — not child abuse — as the reason for the agency's involvement.
Attorneys asked Emerson why home-schooling, something perfectly legal in the state, would be listed as a reason for CPS involvement. Emerson did not have an answer.

The caseworkers who took the stand were not the investigators, who could provide real insight as to why each child was taken into custody. CPS has said all of the children were either abused or “at risk” but has provided little in the way of real information about individual children and what makes their case the state's problem.

Instead, the agency called upon supervising caseworkers or those “conservatorship” workers who managed the child's paperwork.

While supervisors' lack of informative details frustrated attorneys and could leave the average spectator with an image of a bungling bureaucracy, it gave the agency an extra shield of deniability and may have been a shrewd legal move to keep details about the individual cases from surfacing before the abuse investigation is finished.

One mysterious note: The case of the 16-year-old known as “Sarah” whose teary call to a San Angelo women's shelter claiming she was sexually and physically abused by husband and sect member Dale Barlow, prompted the YFZ Ranch raid.

The state has all but declared the call a hoax after the phone number was traced to a Colorado woman with a history of pretending to be an abused child. The Texas Department of Public Safety even withdrew its arrest warrant for Barlow.

But CPS has said nothing about whether they think “Sarah” is real or not, saying that the call didn't force them to remove the children, and that what they found, which has yet to be truly revealed, did.

Early Monday, CPS attorney Gary Banks asked that the case of “Baby Jessop,” naming Sarah as the mother and Barlow as the father, be dismissed.

“We're not saying that the child doesn't exist, but at this time we don't believe she's in our custody,” Banks said.