MIDLAND, Texas Nearly 400 FLDS children have now been reunited with their parents with most of the other 50 or so expected to go home today.
"Six facilities still have children," Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said Tuesday.
Many of those who cared for the children since they were seized from their homes at the YFZ Ranch and placed into state custody say they believe the children are returning home with different perspectives than they had before.
"I hope they now know not everyone on the outside is their enemies," said Jackie Carter, executive director of the High Sky Children's Ranch here that was home to 15 teenage girls. "I think there's a little crack in that thought."
Although happy to see the children from the Fundamentalist LDS Church go home, Carter said she had bittersweet feelings as the last three girls left.
"I've been very sad today, actually," she said. "I thoroughly enjoyed them. We all learned a lot and will miss them."
Since the children were placed into foster care facilities like hers six weeks ago, Carter said she's seen a big change in the girls. "They were a lot more reserved when they came. They didn't know if they could trust us."
Delma Trejo saw a similar transition.
"They were very guarded at the very beginning, which I don't blame them," said the executive director of the Ark Assessment Center and Emergency Shelter in Corpus Christi.
The children were initially taken from their homes at the Yearning for Zion Ranch to make-shift shelters before being scattered to various foster facilities throughout Texas.
"You look at all these changes, and they're scared," Trejo said.
She was happy to watch the 21 girls and boys at her facility, from ages 4 months to 17 years, gain some trust with the caretakers.
Carter said the teens at her ranch were understandably sad being away from siblings and parents, but the staff worked hard to provide a safe environment for them and to meet their wants and needs. One of those needs included buying sewing machines and material so the girls could make their own dresses and other clothing.
Last month, the 15 girls made matching dresses and sang songs for the facility's board of directors.
"One day they even played in the sprinklers and had a wonderful time. They ran through the office wet," Carter recalled. "Some of them said
they would come back and see us, and I hope they do."
"We threw a bit of a party to let them know we cared about them," said Ann Mason of the Assessment Center of Tarrant County in Fort Worth. It housed 36 boys and girls from infants to 17 years old. "Overall, it's been a good experience for us," she said.
At the Presbyterian Children's Homes and Services in Waxahachie, president Ed Knight described his experience a little less enthusiastically.
"I'd call it a unique experience," he said of hosting 10 FLDS children between the ages of 4 and 14.
"Our population tended to be even more reserved than I've heard at other facilities," he said. "The older children particularly remained very guarded throughout the process."
The children there could have watched TV but never did. Nor did any of the children want to leave the campus to go on excursions.
"The older girls definitely were controlling any experiences on the part of the younger kids," he said.
Knight said he and his caregivers did have to address issues with the children such as cooperation, being polite and respecting others. They experienced success after tying privileges with behavior.
"Overall, I think our goals were accomplished, which was to help them realize they were in a safe place and know the people here cared for them and kept them healthy and secure."
Trejo said she hopes the children she cared for will now see others from outside their community in a better light. And some things the children learned about in the "outside world" may be hard to give up.
"Particularly the toys in general," she said, recalling watching the faces of some of the children play with toys they weren't acquainted with before.
"For some of them it was like, 'Wow! These things exist!'" she said. "They're going to want to be going back to them."
As the massive custody case collapses because of two court rulings that ordered the children returned to their parents, criminal investigations are continuing.
DNA test results from 603 FLDS members are being filed with the court in San Angelo this week. The Texas Attorney General's Office gathered DNA samples from men, women and children in the custody case in order to determine parentage. It cost about $60,000 in taxpayer funds.
It is unknown how child welfare authorities will use the DNA samples in the future, but FLDS members have expressed concern that the DNA would be used in criminal investigations.
"How they will be used now, based on this case, is the decision of CPS and the court," said Texas Attorney General spokeswoman Janece Rolfe.Rolfe told the Deseret News the DNA samples could not be used without a court order.
Contributing: Ben Winslow E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail: [email protected]