Texas authorities' attempts to save children from being abused at the YFZ Ranch are doing much more harm than good for the 437 children they removed from the FLDS Church property, a Utah child welfare advocacy group said Monday.

A byproduct of actions by child protective services in Texas is exposing children to a special kind of trauma, fear and mistrust that they are likely to have not known were it not for the raid at the compound, said Bonnie L. Peters, executive director of The Family Support Center.

While well-meaning, removing the children and keeping them sequestered "is not in the best interest of the children and will have devastating effects on their mental health," she said, starting with the heavily armed Texas law enforcement officers who arrived at the ranch of the Fundamentalist LDS Church in SWAT gear. "The children, no doubt, suffered extreme psychological abuse at the hands of the people who were seeing themselves as rescuers."

Peters' assertions are backed by a national child welfare advocate who believes the children in state custody in Texas are receiving, at best, help from strangers who "dispense indiscriminate pseudo-love to anyone who walks in the door," said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. "The compound the children used to be in was, in fact, a collection of homes, where the children were with people they considered family.

"I hope CPS is simply clueless about child development and the enormous trauma they are inflicting needlessly on these children by keeping them away from their mothers," he said, "because any other explanation would be even worse."

The Family Support Center, as well as being an advocate for children and families, is also administrator of the Safety Net Program, a state support and counseling program for children and women who have been part of polygamous groups in Utah and elsewhere. A special committee formed in 2003 by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff brought together government authorities from Utah and Arizona, representatives of polygamous communities in both states, social service agencies and community advocates.

Peters said the result was a base of communication, trust and understanding that has led to dialogue and prosecutions where child abuse or domestic violence was found.

Linda Kelsch, community action director with Principle Voices of Polygamy, believes Texas authorities have succeeded in confirming the FLDS people's belief that the outside world is the enemy, and the only safe place for them is their own homes and communities.

"Texas has succeeded in creating an environment for more isolation, which has the potential in any community to set up an environment for abuse," Kelsch said.

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Wexler said the public should keep in mind that the Texas CPS workers have placed the children in an isolated compound, in absolute secrecy, at risk of abuse and barred from contact with the outside world.

"That's what CPS said they were protecting the children from in the first place," he said.

Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, has previously said the state taking custody of the 437 children boils down to one thing — abuse.

"We've said all along there are no winners in this situation. ... We empathize in particular with the mothers. But this case is not about religion. This is about keeping children safe. We believe what we found is systemic abuse of children."

E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com