With different Wake up America articles over the last two days, I have reported continuous updates on the hearing in Texas to determine the custody of 416 children that were removed from the Yearning for Zion Ranch, almost two weeks ago.
After two grueling days of testimony with hundreds of lawyers, parents and 416 children as well as Child Protective Services and law enforcement officials testifying, Judge Barbara Walther has ruled all 416 FLDS children will remain in state custody.
The hearing and testimony day one.
The hearing and testimony day two.
The testimony from Child Protection Services (CPS) consisted of evidence that young girls, some as young as 13 were "spiritually" married off to old men and then impregnated.
Other testimony showed that girls ages 14 and 15 years old were also either pregnant or already had children. This case is the biggest child custody case ever seen in US history.
After a chaotic two days, District Judge Barbara Walther has just issued her ruling that all 416 children will remain in the Texas state care, allowing child welfare workers to start finding foster homes for them.
The judge has also ordered paternity and maternity testing on the fathers and the mothers to determine which children belong to who.
According to the judge a mobile unit will used to collect DNA samples from the children on Monday and the parents on Tuesday.
Before reading the verdict, Judge Walther explained the task that was before her, saying, "This is the hardest, toughest decision a judge makes every day. There is no easy way to do this."
A follow up hearing has been scheduled for June 5, 2008.
CPS spokeswomen, Marleigh Meisner, said the agency was pleased with the decision and that this case was not about religion but about the safety and well being of the children.
FLDS women sat silent and motionless inside Walther's courtroom upon hearing the ruling. After the judge left the courtroom, many huddled with their attorneys and listened as the lawyers explained the meaning of the decision.
The testimony today and yesterday showed a pattern of abuses that were perpetrated at the YFZ Ranch on young girls by older men that the mothers did not attempt to stop because it is their belief that at puberty, a young girl is old enough to become spiritually married and start bearing children.
There were suggestions of a compromise of mothers leaving the ranch to be able to be with their children, but some expert testimony also stated that the mothers might not be capable of making decisions for themselves much less for children.
Texas Child Protective Services chief investigator Angie Voss testified yesterday boys in the polygamous sect are groomed to become perpetrators of sexual assault, and girls become their victims. Today, she rejected scenarios proposed by attorneys that might lead to the return of the children.
Psychiatrist Bruce Perry of Texas, also took the stand this morning. Perry has worked with children from the Branch Davidian sect and said although he has found much to be admired about the FLDS, "the environment is authoritarian."
Perry testified that "young girls who are 14, 15 or 16 are not emotionally mature enough to enter into healthy sexual relationships" and also focused his testimony on the limited choices available to FLDS children.
Because of the unique circumstances in which these children have been raised, questions of what type of homes would be appropriate for them have not been answered yet.
When that question was put to Perry, he said that returning the children to the ranch would be detrimental and continued on to say, "because they are either victims of sexual assault, potential victims of sexual assault or potential perpetrators."
He also stated that state facilities and normal foster homes are not set up for these particular children's needs either.
When asked which option would be best for the children — a return to the ranch, placement in the foster system or remaining in the coliseum where they are now — he said none were acceptable.
These things will all need to be worked out, but for now, the judge's decision will see to it that none of these children are returned to the Ranch that the Child Protective Services allege would put them at imminent risk of danger.
[Update] This is temporary custody as of now. This will give CPS time to further investigate and to give authorities time to determine what children are siblings, who their biological parents are and be able to determine something more permanent at a later date.
[Update #2] More information about the determination of the judge in this case.
Over the next several weeks, each child will have their own hearing which will determine if the can return to the YFZ Ranch or whether the state will get permanent custody of them.
All hearings must be held by June 5, 2008.
The DNA tests were ordered because welfare officials have had difficulties in determining how the children and the adults are related and the answers they were given were either evasive or kept changing.
Update On The FLDS Custody Hearing Regarding the Children of the YFZ Ranch- Day Two Begins--All Day Updates
Custody Hearing for the Children of the Polygamist FLDS Sect Starts
The Forgotten Children of the FLDS Polygamist Group, The Lost Boys
The Children From the Polygamist YFZ Ranch
Update on Polygamist Compound Raid-Documents Unsealed And Beds In The Temple
Documents Detail Abuse at YFZ Ranch
Now 400 Children In Custody from Polygamist Compound- Updated, Second Person Arrested
Standoff at Polygamist Compound-Updated
Children Removed from Warren Jeff's Polygamist Retreat in Texas
Polygamist Sect Leader Warren Jeffs Found Guilty In Utah