A judge has not yet decided whether the 11 children of a polygamist mother should be permanently taken from her, but he did order extra supervision during the mom's visits, which he said lately have been "adversarial."
Third District Juvenile Judge Andrew Valdez ordered that a "peer parent" be on hand for visits that Heidi Mattingly, a member of the polygamist Kingston family, has with her children. All are in state custody except for an infant girl.
State officials have contended that the children's father, John Daniel Kingston, abused the children and Mattingly failed to protect them, as well as failed to provide a safe and sanitary home. Allegations later arose that Mattingly also abused the children, including hitting them in the face until they bled from the nose or mouth, verbally belittling them and beating one child across the back with a broom handle.
Valdez made no decision Wednesday regarding returning the children to Mattingly's custody because the legal action in her case has not been concluded. Her next court date is Jan. 12.
However, the judge expressed concerns about the "adversarial" nature of supervised visits Mattingly has had with the children. He referred to a Division of Children and Family Services report that said Mattingly has behaved poorly with the children and seems to be trying to influence what they say and do.
"If I had to determine reunification or home placement based on the visits, her chances of having these 10 kids returned to her are getting slimmer and slimmer," Valdez told Mattingly's lawyer.
"In my heart of hearts, I want to return these kids to you," Valdez told Mattingly. "But I am not going to return the kids to you unless I can determine they are going to be safe and they are going to be protected."
Valdez said his reading of the report indicates Mattingly uses the visits to manipulate the children and turn them against DCFS, their foster parents and the courts. "Visits should be for moms to show some nurturing. (They are) not arenas of confrontation."
From now on, a "peer parent" will be present, along with a DCFS employee, to teach Mattingly appropriate behavior and parenting skills, the judge ruled. Visits also will involve no more than four children at a time.
Much of Wednesday's hearing was devoted to what will happen to a videotaped interview that one of the children had with a law enforcement officer from the Utah Attorney General's Office. Mattingly's attorney, Russell Pietryga, argued that he needed to see the tape in order to properly represent his client. However, Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Nichols expressed fears that disclosing the tape could compromise an ongoing investigation that might result in criminal charges and that has little connection to the custody matter.
After lengthy debate, Valdez checked with the presiding judge of the juvenile courts, who assigned 3rd District Juvenile Judge Frederic Oddone to privately review the tape. If anything in it relates to Mattingly's case, Oddone will then inform Valdez, who in turn will contact all the attorneys.
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