ELDORADO, Texas Throughout the day, attorneys representing the children taken from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch have been touring the sprawling place the children once called home.
"We're just having time with our attorneys," an FLDS man told reporters gathered outside the ranch gates. "The attorneys are requesting some private time with their clients."
In SUVs, attorneys have come and gone from the YFZ Ranch throughout the day, stopping to be let in or out at the gate, as the sun bakes down on the west Texas prairie land. Susan Hays, a Dallas attorney acting as a guardian ad litem for a little girl taken from the YFZ Ranch, walked away impressed.
"These people can build houses. It's an amazing facility, amazing construction," she said Saturday. "These aren't poor kids living in trailers. They're huge buildings, very clean and, frankly, they're a lot better conditions than the children are living in right now inside the coliseum."
Some of the children taken from the YFZ Ranch are being housed in nearby San Angelo, where they are sleeping on cots in what some FLDS people have said are very cramped conditions. Attorneys have complained that they have had to conduct interviews with their clients in horse barns.
Hays said it was sad to walk through a huge home that was completely empty.
Earlier this month, 416 children were taken from the YFZ Ranch after Texas child welfare workers said a 16-year-old girl called a domestic violence hotline and said she was pregnant and in an abusive marriage to an older man.
When Texas officials went to investigate, they said they found evidence of other abuse and a judge ordered the removal of all the children. On Friday, the judge ordered all of the children to remain in state custody.
Hays said she expects hearings to begin being held quickly, even before the next scheduled hearing on June 5, to determine what is in the best interest of the children.
"When you see a small child that's living on a cot instead of in their home, that's sad," she said. "It's frustrating and sad for individual lawyers when they have not seen any evidence of abuse in that child's home. The state seems to be making this argument that the whole thing's a big house. It's a 1,700-acre ranch with multiple buildings, large homes."
In many respects, the problems facing the FLDS people on the YFZ Ranch have been exacerbated by a community that is very secretive, especially in matters of family relationships, and child protective services workers who naturally get suspicious when people don't want to answer questions.
Hays said she has seen no general conditions on the ranch that would make any guardian ad litem reluctant to push for returning their child home. But given the nature of the allegations of child-bride marriages and other abuse, she conceded that a culture shift may need to be made.
"If there were never any teenagers being spiritual wives, there would never have been a problem," she said.
In court on Friday, some FLDS women testified that they would not condone underage girls marrying older men. They also said they would be willing to agree to some form of separation, if it meant being reunited with their children.
"Mothers will do a lot to be with their children," Hays said.DNA tests to establish paternity and family relationships will be conducted Monday at the San Angelo Coliseum for the children. On Tuesday, parents are expected to show up at the Schleicher County Courthouse square for a cheek swab.
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