Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More sect moms may join children

I am hoping this is a positive step in the right direction.
Some nursing mothers and children may stay together. I am hoping that everyone, particularly Judge Walther, is beginning to understand the importance of breast milk for these children. If officials thought Judge Walther's safety was in jeopardy, I wonder if they would deprive her of water? --Nicole

More sect moms may join children
Number of youngsters held rises

By Paul A. Anthony
San Angelo Standard-Times
Monday, April 21, 2008

SAN ANGELO -- A state district judge seemed to open the door Monday for adult women to be placed with their nursing children in foster situations, telling attorneys in the historic Schleicher County child-removal case to negotiate such provisions on a case-by-case basis.

Judge Barbara Walther declined to rule on a temporary restraining order sought by attorneys representing adult women and infants held at the San Angelo Coliseum since their removal from the YFZ Ranch northeast of Eldorado. Instead, the 51st District judge said the question was one for each mother's and each child's attorney to settle with the state's Child Protective Services agency.

"This is really one of the cases where y'all should be talking instead of running to the court every time," Walther said. "These most private matters should be handled in an individual manner."

CPS as a rule does not place adult women with their children, regardless of age or whether they are nursing, said spokeswoman Shari Pulliam, but that it has found placement for the at least five girls identified as juvenile mothers with their children.

Allowing adult women to be placed with their nursing children "would be something I would say is new," Pulliam said.

'We're going to keep these teenage girls with their children,' she said; however, 'None of our plans involve placing (adult) mothers with their children.'

Placement likely will begin by next week, Pulliam said.

Since Walther ruled Friday that all 400-plus children removed from the compound should remain in CPS custody, attorneys have filed dozens of motions and requested orders -- including 35 writs of habeas corpus.

Walther conducted a pair of hearings Monday in an effort to answer some of those questions, not least of which is how many children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

compound the state actually has in custody.

CPS began removing children April 3, a process that took nearly four days.

Attempts since then by attorneys ad litem and CPS caseworkers to solidify birth dates have led to an increase in the count to 437

from the previously reported 416 children in custody, Pulliam said. The number of adult women believed to be willingly staying with their young children also has risen, from 82 to 95.

It means a total of 519 people from the ranch are now housed at the San Angelo Fairgrounds.

The numbers have jumped for two principal reasons, Pulliam said:

• Some girls claiming to be adults have since been correctly classified as juveniles and the totals of both categories remain in flux as numbers are added and subtracted from each.

• The sheer numbers of children has made counting difficult, something CPS hopes will be eased by this week's DNA testing.

"We're just not getting a lot of factual information," Pulliam said. "It's just been really hard."

The state alleges all children at the ranch were at risk for physical or sexual abuse because of a 'pervasive pattern and practice' of underage marriage.

Walther, in her brusque style, entreated attorneys to work together to resolve other issues brought to her Monday -- such as the usage of eight telephone lines recently installed at the coliseum to allow women and older children to communicate with their attorneys and how to allow the devout detainees the private prayer and worship they've requested.

In the end, Walther, urging flexibility, suggested finding a monitor from the mainstream Mormon church whose presence may be more palatable to the FLDS members than a complete outsider.

"I'm not going to monitor what color napkins get handed out," she said, "and that's where this is leading."

Attorneys for the women and children used the hearings to more fully air concerns first broached during last week's initial custody hearing -- including allegations that CPS was unfairly restricting access to attorneys and being uncooperative in striking agreements on such issues as prayer time and foster placement for nursing children.

Andrea L. Sloan, an Austin-based attorney representing several mothers in the case, said she had met extensively with attorneys for both mothers and children in preparing the motion, which she filed with San Angelo attorneys Deborah Keenum and Terri Harris Motl.

Sloan and Keenum said they did not have any immediate comment.

While acknowledging that infants were best served by receiving breast milk from their mothers, Walther highlighted CPS' position that the mothers had placed their children at risk for abuse in the FLDS setting.

"The court has ruled the conditions those children were in were not safe for the children," she said. "I did not make the facts that got this case into the courts."

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