2 young FLDS boys unaccounted for

Published: Sunday, April 27 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

SAN ANGELO, Texas — As children from the Fundamentalist LDS Church settled into new foster homes this weekend, the whereabouts of two young boys remains uncertain.
Child welfare workers in Texas say they're not worried. But the mother of the boys and attorneys representing the mothers are not sure whether they should be or not.
"We just don't know where they are," Cynthia Martinez told the Deseret News Saturday.
Martinez, the communications director for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which represents 48 FLDS mothers, said they had information on where the boys were supposed to be taken but can't confirm anything to emotional parents. It's indicative, she said, of the fear and confusion the parents of the 467 children taken from the YFZ Ranch continue to feel.
Meanwhile, an FLDS member sent a letter to the governor of Texas on Saturday, accusing child welfare officials of "some of the most horrific violations of human rights that have ever been allowed on American soil."
The letter was sent to Texas Gov. Rick Perry from Willie Jessop, an FLDS member who has helped church members publicize their cause. The letter asks the governor to respond and "stop this injustice and abuse" of the innocent FLDS children by separating them from their mothers.
"The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services have demonstrated, in a most blatant way, their inability to properly care for, or even account for our children," the letter states.
"Many have been left in critical medical conditions, resulting in permanent mental damage through threats, intimidation and ultimately separating them from their parents, disregarding their own psychological expert advice to keep children with at least their mother."
Jessop accused Texas officials of "false allegations about the finding of abuse against teenage girls" and accused some Child Protective Services employees of "inhumane tactics and threats towards innocent mothers and children."
While not responding directly to the letter, DFPS spokesman Chris Van Deusen and others have repeatedly and strongly denied allegations made by several FLDS mothers that CPS workers threatened to never allow them to see their children again if they didn't cooperate or if the women returned to their homes at the YFZ Ranch.
"Those (allegations) are absolutely false. No one from CPS would say that," Van Deusen said.
Like Jessop, Martinez said accounting for all the children is a concern for her, too.
She said the mother of the two unaccounted-for boys contacted her attorney to say she needed to know about her 11-year-old and 16-month-old sons. The attorney was unable to get any information to help calm her client. Martinez is not saying the boy took his brother and ran away but said she can't rule out any possibilities because of the confusion that exists.
"These mothers are no longer with their children. They're afraid and fearful and they want to know that their kids are OK," she said. "We're having trouble even telling these mothers where their kids are going."
The last of the 467 children were bused from makeshift shelters here Friday and sent throughout Texas to 16 different foster-care facilities in Amarillo, Midland, Abilene, Ft. Worth, Waxahachie, Houston, Waco, Austin, San Antonio and Corpus Christi.
"We don't have any unaccounted-for kids. All of them are in foster care now," said Van Deusen.
He couldn't provide any details about the specific two boys but said identification issues have continued to plague Texas officials. CPS workers have repeatedly complained that some children and women have provided different names than were given the day before. Together with the unusual family sizes and the number of different mothers caring for the children from the polygamous families, it's been difficult to sort out who's who.
"I don't know if this is a matter of simply not being matched up properly," he said.
Such confusion is why a judge ordered all mothers, fathers and children who lived on the ranch to submit to DNA testing. But those results aren't expected for another month.
Martinez said her office received information from one of the foster facilities Saturday that a 2-year-old child from one of the mothers they represent was hospitalized and in the intensive care unit. Yet when the child's guardian ad litem called the hospital, she was told there was no one there with that child's name.
The judge told CPS to allow mothers to be with their children when they got sick, Martinez said. "Not only is this mother not able to confirm where her child is or what her current health situation is, but the mother is not being allowed to be with this child or her other nursing children," she said.
Martinez also spoke of another FLDS mother who was extremely anxious Saturday for news about her children. "She's just terrified because she doesn't feel her kids know how to live without her," she said.
"Any mother would be afraid and concerned. It is heightened here by the fact that this community has been living a different lifestyle for so long," Martinez said. "They don't know how their children are going to react or are now reacting to the world in general."
Van Deusen said if parents don't know which foster facility is caring for their children, they soon will. And, he said, the attorneys for the children should already know.
Although Judge Barbara Walther has not yet authorized visitation for parents, CPS workers are currently making preparations for that to occur. "The mothers will be able to visit their children in some capacity," he said.
Most of the visits will likely be supervised and, at least initially, may take place at CPS offices.
He said the next step for CPS is to set up a "service plan" for each child. Each child will be assigned a case worker and parents will be invited to attend these meetings during which all options and programs will be discussed.
"We want the parents to be involved. They're still a part of this process," Van Deusen said.
Yet the Department of Family and Protective Services has so far argued that each child who lived at the ranch was in danger because of a pattern of sexual, physical and emotional abuse there. Investigators described a "pattern of grooming girls from a young age to accept becoming married to middle-aged men" and identified 20 girls and women who got pregnant between the ages of 13 and 16.
Asked whether the department would begin to look at each individual child's case separately, rather than as a group collectively in danger, Van Deusen said he isn't sure.
"I can't say right now what the plan may be for specific children or all the children" as a group, he said. Each child's case worker, attorney and guardian ad litem will be involved in such decisions together with a judge.

E-mail: bwest@desnews.com

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