SAN ANGELO, Texas The Texas judge who is overseeing the massive custody case involving children seized during a raid on the Fundamentalist LDS church's ranch earlier this month said today she will not separate mothers from their infants.
But mothers whose children are over 12 months will have to be separated, according to the judge.
The decision came during a briefing between the judge and Texas child-welfare authorities.
Lawyers for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said that officials relocated 111 children on Tuesday. "All arrived safely at their destinations and are making adjustments and doing well so far," said attorney Gary Banks.
The state's Child Protective Services said its plan was to separate mothers from their children when they began placing the rest of the children who are still inside the San Angelo Coliseum. But Judge Barbara Walther said she would prefer that the 18 girls with infants would not be separated.
Mothers who are still nursing children over 12 months may be placed in an emergency shelter where they could provide breast milk for their children.
"No one wants to see children separated from their parents," the judge said.
Throughout the hearing the judge peppered CPS with questions about the conditions for the children once they are placed in foster care.
She moved quickly over topics such as parental visitation, practice of religion and education. CPS officials said the children will be free to practice their religion. Educational assessments also will be done.
"It might be down the road, they would be integrated into the school system but that is not the plan right now because there may be a little bit of culture shock," Banks said.
The judge also asked if CPS could provide clothing that meets the unique aspects of the FLDS Church. Girls wear long prairie-style dresses and boys wear long-sleeved shirts.
"We think that is something that needs to happen because it is a big part of who they are," said Banks.
The judge also inquired about eventually placing the children with family members outside Texas. "The courts want to be very cautious in placement outside the state of Texas," Walther said.
Several FLDS members attended the briefing. One woman sat outside on a bench, talking with an attorney and looking visibly upset.
Willie Jessop, an FLDS member, left the courthouse. He also was visibly upset.
"My reaction is: Do unto others as you would like done unto yourself."
If this "is how your children should be treated ... I guess this is a great day."
Also, authorities have finished collecting DNA samples from more than 400 children from the FLDS Church being housed in a makeshift shelter.
Charter buses were arriving at the San Angelo Coliseum late Wednesday morning to take more of the children to 16 locations across Texas, where they will be placed in foster-care facilities.
But that transport was not going to happen until after the court hearing this afternoon.
Acting on a call to a family crisis shelter from a 16-year-old girl named "Sarah," authorities raided the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch near Eldorado earlier this month. Even though police and child welfare workers have been unable to identify the girl, authorities say they documented child abuse that merited the removal of all 437 kids, including teenage mothers and pregnant teens.
Walther signed the order that put the children in state protective custody. They have been housed at the coliseum and fairgrounds with 95 women from the YFZ Ranch, who are staying with the children.
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