Individual family service plans for the children taken into state protective custody in the raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch are expected to be filed in a Texas court beginning today.
But just how "individual" those plans are is in question.
The plans, which are supposed to include input from the children, their parents and Texas Child Protective Services on what it will take to reunite a parent with a child, are being filed under a Friday deadline. Individual status hearings for the 464 children in state protective custody are scheduled before five judges in San Angelo on Monday.
Attorneys who have received copies of the plans complain that the only thing individual about them is the case number assigned to each child.
"Normally we have input. Normally we talk to a caseworker. Normally we have input with the parents," said Rene Haas, an attorney representing an FLDS father. "This is not normal."
The Deseret News obtained copies of some of the family service plans from several different sources. Each had identical paragraphs and essentially said the same thing. Texas CPS officials characterize it as a "template" that was leaked, and not the official plans that will be submitted to the courts."We did use a template on these plans of service and this was due to the large number of plans we are developing," said Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner. "Each child in care has their own plan of service. If the mother and father are together as a couple they have their own plan of service. With one child involved we could have three service plans."
In the plans, Texas child welfare officials repeat why they placed the children in protective custody in the first place.
"Interviews with underage girls at the ranch revealed a pattern of underage girls being 'spiritually united' with adult men and having children with these men," it says. "The department's investigation has found an apparent practice of training young girls to submit to this behavior and training young boys that when they become adults it is appropriate for them to become perpetrators, which conduct constitutes sexual and mental and emotional abuse."
CPS says a large number of girls, ages 14-17, have children, are pregnant or both. Several children have or have had suspicious broken bones, and CPS alleges there are indications of possible sexual abuse of young boys.
Haas objected to the blanket forms that portray everyone on the YFZ Ranch.
"You cannot take children away because their parents think something or believe something. You can only take children away for what you can prove parents have done," she said Wednesday. "There is no proof on our family of anything that remotely could be called child abuse."
The reports praise the families on the YFZ Ranch for their strong work ethic, their resourcefulness and the communal support in raising children.
"The adults generally demonstrate basic parenting skills," it says. "The adults express a desire to be good parents. They have strong religious beliefs."
Under "Family and CPS concerns related to risk and safety," the plan outlines sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse and neglect. Meisner said they included the definitions in Texas law."That's so the families have a clear understanding of the definition of child abuse and neglect," she said. "We also want them to have a clear understanding of why their children are in care."
The service plan goals say the parents will understand what abuse is and take steps to protect their children. They also ask parents to cooperate with DNA testing and providing identifying papers to establish paternity and family relationships.
"We want them to be better equipped to work with their individual caseworkers to work toward the eventual goal of family reunification," said Meisner.
For parents, tasks include participating in parenting classes, psychiatric evaluations and following the recommendations of counselors.
"Establish safe living arrangements for children and provide verification to the department of living arrangements, including methods of support the family is receiving from all sources," one recommendation says.
The recommendations obtained by the Deseret News make no mention of any requirements for the parents to leave the FLDS faith, or explicitly say to move off of the YFZ Ranch. But an attorney representing the FLDS Church said they are underlying themes.
"A safe living environment sounds just fine, but what they mean is get off the ranch," said Rod Parker. "It asks the parents to admit many of the false premises this raid was based on."
The goal of the child welfare system is eventual reunification between parents and children. Over the next year, the judges in San Angelo will have to decide how and when that happens. An introduction letter to one FLDS mother that was included with the plan urged cooperation with CPS."If the judge is not satisfied that you can provide a safe place for your child where they are free from abuse, the judge may decide to limit or even permanently take away all of your rights as a parent of a child," it said. "The child then could be placed in permanent foster care or be adopted."
As part of the family service plans, the parents, the child, advocates and CPS workers give input. With 464 children in foster care facilities and their parents scattered in Texas, Utah, Arizona and elsewhere, some complain the interviews simply aren't happening.
Cynthia Martinez with the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid Society, which is representing a group of FLDS mothers, said that for the most part, they have not been interviewed by child welfare workers.
"They've been presented with this plan and that's pretty much been it," she said Wednesday.
Haas said she has made repeated attempts to contact CPS caseworkers to set up an interview with her clients about the family service plans, but has never received a call back. Her client, Joseph Steed Jessop Sr., won a temporary restraining order on Tuesday, blocking CPS from separating his 1-year-old son from the child's mother.
Meisner said they are working toward the Friday deadline, but could not say if the hundreds of caseworkers involved in this massive custody case would be able to interview everyone in time.
"We're doing our very best to try to meet with the parents and the families," she said.
Martinez said the FLDS mothers who have received service plans have mixed reactions."It varies between our clients as to what each mother is willing to do and how receptive each mother is to the plans being proposed," she said. "All of our attorneys are working with our clients to review the plan and advocate on behalf of what each mother wants."
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