Fallout from FLDS raid is intense
Texas authorities defend removal of 416 children
Tim Hussin, Deseret News
SAN ANGELO, Texas Texas child protection officials defended the removal of 416 children from the polygamist YFZ Ranch and said they were hopeful a judge on Thursday will continue to keep the children in the state's custody.
"We believe we have a strong case," and that the children will remain in the state's temporary care, said Marleigh Meisner, spokeswoman with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Meisner said foster homes have already been lined up should the children remain in custody.
At a news conference Tuesday at a San Angelo museum, Meisner said that she believed there are FLDS children in the state's care who have been victims of physical and sexual abuse and other children who were at risk. The ranch was "not a safe environment for these children."
Meisner was joined by two legislative officials who pledged the state's full support, including monetarily, for the inevitable fallout of such a large-scale operation in which children could be under the umbrella of foster care indefinitely.
"As a human being, none of us like human misery, nor do we like the abuse of children," said Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo. "We have a saying here: 'Don't mess with Texas.' I'm going to change it up and say, 'Don't mess with the children of Texas.'"
Darby called the FLDS situation a "great human tragedy" but praised the outpouring of support and cooperation Texas agencies have received.
"It's a difficult time. There are no answers for these issues, only managed solutions."
On Monday, Texas authorities came under fire for the seemingly abrupt separation of hundreds of children from their mothers and other female adult caretakers.
The decision, which came 11 days after the initial raid, came after "a lot of thought," Meisner said. "We really stand by that decision."
Often, Meisner explained, children who remain in the company of an adult during the midst of a child abuse investigation do not feel that they can freely speak. "We believe children who are victims of abuse and neglect are certainly going to feel safer if there is not a parent there, coaching them. ... That is true of any child protection case," she said.
While it is ideal that families should remain together, Meisner stressed it isn't always possible, given the allegations of abuse and the agency's attempt to ferret out the details.
Attorneys met with the children on Tuesday, she said.
The state has sequestered 100 children, 4 years old and older, with child protection staff at the Wells Fargo Pavilion in town. One caregiver is assigned to three children. Children under age 4 were allowed to stay with their adult caretakers.
Meisner said that of the 57 women who were transported to the San Angelo Coliseum, six women accepted the agency's offer to move into "a safe place," while others requested to return to the ranch.
Meisner said Monday's decision did not come easily.
"It was a difficult thing to do," she said. "Children like to be with their parents, and parents like to be with their children. There was some sadness as well as some tears.
"The children who have been separated have indoor and outdoor play areas, and are being provided three meals a day plus snacks.
"They are happy, they are playing," she said, adding children have been allowed to freely worship. "We are certainly very respectful of that."
Meisner also outlined other agency action, including the transfer of two dozen adolescent boys. They were moved Monday afternoon and placed in temporary foster custody.
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