SAN ANGELO, Texas An anticipated media briefing set for this afternoon was canceled by state child welfare officials because they had hoped to have a child trauma expert on hand.
Meanwhile, Texas officials were bracing for an unusual day in court tomorrow.
Dr. Bruce D. Perry is the senior fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy, a non-profit organization based in Houston. Perry has been working with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and many of the 416 children removed from the YFZ Ranch earlier this month. Perry was praised Tuesday by state officials who described his work with children as "phenomenal."
It was anticipated that Perry would address the mental and emotional well-being of the children in state custody and speak to what counselors and child protective services workers are doing to ease the pain of separation from their families.
Attorneys within the legal division of the state agency have been meeting one-on-one with the children who are segregated into groups based on a number of factors, including age and gender.
For example, the agency on Monday shuttled 27 adolescent boys several hundred miles away to the Cal Farley Ranch near Amarillo, Texas. DFPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins said the ranch is a licensed contract provider that the agency routinely uses. The ranch provides a number of settings for a variety of children from varying age groups.
In San Angelo, 100 children 4 years old and younger are being housed at the Wells Fargo pavilion. Mothers who originally came to the shelters with their children when the polygamous ranch was raided have been allowed to stay and care for those children. The older children are being held separately at the nearby San Angelo Coliseum and are being cared for by state workers.
After FLDS mothers of children over 4 were separated from their children, 51 of those women returned to their homes at the Yearning For Zion Ranch while six initially went to an area safe house to stay. Those six women have since returned to their homes.
San Angelo attorney Amy Hennington said she received a call from the women at the shelter Monday evening, asking her to take them back to the ranch.
"They had been told that they would get their children back quicker if they went to the shelter, but they soon found out that was not true," said Hennington, who is representing FLDS fathers in the custody case. "They were very glad to go home."
Court officials are scrambling to prepare for a marathon court hearing set to begin Thursday morning. Presided over by Schleicher County 51st District Judge Barbara Walther, the hearing is expected to determine whether the children will remain in the custody of the state or be returned to their families.
The hearing is expected to be an "all-day affair," said Tom Green County court clerk Trish Gray. "It's crazy. There are a lot of things we don't know. Nobody knows for sure what's going to happen."
Even though the raid occurred in Schleicher County, court officials said the hearing and handling of the court documents was transferred to Tom Green County because it is better equipped to handle a case of this magnitude in San Angelo.
Walther has jurisdiction in both counties as well as other outlying areas. She is the same judge who authorized the two search warrants and also ordered that all children be removed from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's ranch in Eldorado.
Court officials say they are doing all they can to streamline the process, in which it is anticipated attorneys hired by the FLDS Church will be given the chance to speak.
"They're supposed to be afforded the opportunity," Gray said.
Tuesday, state officials said they believe they have a strong case to keep all 416 of the children in state custody, but did hint that it's possible the judge could order supervised visitations with parents at some point.
Crimmins said the state's child welfare system does have a provision for next-of-kin placement, an action that would necessitate several requirements outlined by the court.Perry was chief of psychiatry for Texas Children's Hospital and vice chairman for research within the Department of Psychiatry. Most recently, his work at the ChildTrauma Academy has been in public/private partnership with institutions that work with high risk children, such as child protective services, mental health, public education and juvenile justice.