Number of children in Texas custody rises — some young mothers are actually under 18

Published: Thursday, April 24 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

FLDS mothers open the window of a bus and yell as Texas authorities remove the mothers from their children at the San Angelo Coliseum Thursday.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Buses rolled out of the San Angelo Coliseum, separating mothers from children who have been sheltered here since they were taken in a raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch.

During a Thursday afternoon news conference, Texas Child Protective Service officials said 63 children and 64 women were removed from the coliseum during the day. Of those women, 17 were placed in shelters with their babies. Seven women returned to the YFZ ranch and 40 others were taken to other locations, including a shelter. The state also considers some of the women to actually be girls and they were placed in foster care. That led officials to bump the number of children in Texas custody to 462 because they believe another 25 mothers from the compound are under 18.

The remaining 260 children at the coliseum are expected to be removed shortly.

DPS officials described the separations as very emotional, but denied claims that they were cruel in their taking custody of the children.

"We are not about trying to give people ultimatums," said Darrell Azar, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

DPS officials again defended their removing the children from the YFZ ranch, saying they "found a widespread pattern of young girls being married off to older men."

As the children and mothers were moving, the legal case is also progressing. The Texas 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Austin agreed to hear a series of motions next Tuesday, according to Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. The motions are filed by attorneys representing 45 FLDS mothers seeking to stop the separation from their children.

Activity at the coliseum started as the sun rose Thursday morning, when it was locked down and dozens of lawmen massed outside the cattle arena. Attorneys for the children have been turned away at the gate.

"Are attorneys not allowed to see their clients?" a guardian ad litem shouted to a Texas state trooper blocking a gate.

"No," the officer said authoritatively.

Some attorneys are angry that they have not been allowed to meet with their clients. Stephanie Goodman, a San Angelo attorney representing several FLDS mothers, said she got a panicked phone call today from someone at the YFZ Ranch saying that the women at the shelter were asked to make a choice before they boarded buses: they could go home to the YFZ Ranch or they could get on a bus to a San Antonio shelter. If they chose to go home to the ranch, the women were reportedly told they would never see their children again.

"A whole bunch of Constitutional rights are being violated," Goodman said. She attempted to get into the coliseum to meet with her clients, but was turned away.

"I don't know any other (Child Protective Services) client that has been treated this way," she said. "It's kind of troubling."

Other attorneys for the children were equally outraged.

"I'm going to the courthouse," said Emmet Fleming, an attorney representing a little girl whom he said had medical issues.

CPS officials denied the allegations.

"That's not something we have the authority to say," said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Dept. of Family and Protective Services. "It's a judge making decisions about where they go."

Van Deusen said the plans are to place more children into foster care facilities today.

Those children began leaving the coliseum early this morning. As one bus left, a group of FLDS mothers threw open the dark-tinted windows of the chartered bus and shouted "help." One held out a tiny cardboard sign that said, "SOS mothers separated Help."

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