Texas child welfare authorities have filed court papers asking a judge to put eight children from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch back into foster care.
Child Protective Services claims it is because the mothers have refused to limit the children's contact with men involved in underage marriages, suggesting the families are being uncooperative.
"We are concerned about the welfare of these eight children," said Marleigh Meisner, a CPS spokeswoman. "We have found in these particular cases, these children do not have a protective parent who is willing to ensure their safety."
The six girls and two boys, ages 5 to 17, will not be removed from their homes immediately. A judge in San Angelo has set a Sept. 25 court hearing to consider the request.
In affidavits filed with the motions, child welfare workers don't explicitly state that any of the children have been sexually abused. One of the children, a 14-year-old girl, was married at age 12 to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. The girl said in an interview that "it isn't what CPS is making it to be."
"She said that the marriages are pure," CPS caseworker Ruby Gutierrez wrote in an affidavit. "Further, (the girl) stated that this can't be a crime because Heavenly Father is the one that tells Warren when a girl is ready to get married and that he is only following the word of Heavenly Father."
Texas child welfare authorities have claimed that children on the Yearning for Zion Ranch are at risk of abuse, with girls becoming child brides and boys growing up to become sexual perpetrators. As part of the massive custody battle, CPS asked parents to sign service plans to protect their children including a requirement that the children be kept away from men who may have been involved in underage marriages.
In these cases, the parents refused to sign.
Amy Johnson, the mother of a 13-year-old girl, is accused of allowing her 15-year-old daughter to be married to an older man in 2005.
"Ms. Young refused to take any of those options stating it would be 'an insult to common sense,"' CPS caseworker Kerrie Blair wrote in an affidavit asking the state to take custody of Ellen Grace Young's two daughters, ages 9 and 10.
Young, CPS claims, "abandoned" her children for three years while working in Nevada, not knowing who they were living with on the YFZ Ranch. The agency alleges she also lied to a CPS caseworker about being married, first to a man named Nephi Barlow (the father of the children), and then to Merril Jessop, the ranch's leader, in a 2004 ceremony in a Cedar City motel room.
The whereabouts of some of the parents named in the court papers, including Jessop, are unknown.
Jessop and another of his wives, Barbara Steed Jessop, make up another case involving three of their children. The parents are accused of witnessing underage marriages including their 12-year-old daughter's spiritual marriage to Jeffs.
Two of Jessop's sons, Raymond Merril Jessop and Merril Leroy Jessop, were indicted by a Schleicher County grand jury last month on sexual assault charges, alongside FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. Merril Leroy Jessop is also charged with bigamy.
Dr. Lloyd Barlow, who was indicted on charges of failure to report child abuse, is also named in Tuesday's court filings. CPS investigators seek to take custody of his 5- and 13-year-old daughters, claiming that Barlow was involved in a marriage to a then-16-year-old girl back in 2001.
In an interview with CPS, Barlow said that if a young woman who was a victim of domestic violence sought recourse, "Dr. Barlow stated that the church elders would handle the situation first."
"Dr. Barlow was asked if he had ever delivered children to girls under the age of 18 on the Ranch, and he said many times both on this Ranch and in other places," CPS investigator Paul Dyer wrote in an affidavit.
"Due to the fact that Dr. Lloyd Barlow himself was involved in a marriage with an underage female and that Dr. Lloyd Barlow had delivered children to underage females, the Department believes Dr. Barlow is not a safe and appropriate caregiver," Dyer said.
Attorneys for some of the parents did not return calls seeking comment on Tuesday. An FLDS spokesman also did not immediately have any response to the court action.
The filings are a new salvo in the nation's biggest custody case that began in April, when child welfare workers and law enforcement raided the YFZ Ranch on a call from someone claiming to be a pregnant 16-year-old in an abusive marriage to an older man. The girl was never found and the call is believed to be a hoax, but once on the ranch Texas authorities claim they saw other signs of abuse that prompted a judge to order all of the children removed.
The 440 children were ultimately returned after two Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly in removing all of the children and that they were not in imminent danger. Child welfare and criminal investigations are ongoing.
CPS also filed court papers asking a judge to "non-suit" 32 children where there was no evidence of any underage marriages or their parents agreed to take the appropriate steps to protect their children.
"We moved to non-suit a case when we decide we no longer need court oversight to ensure the child's safety," Meisner said.
Dallas attorney Laura Shockley said one of her clients was believed to be among the 32.
"My little guy was just a baby," she said Tuesday. "There was no reason for them to be in the system."
She would not say if any other court actions are planned to either remove more children or end court oversight of them."We are still in the midst of our investigation and we are trying to conduct this investigation as was recommended by the supreme court," Meisner said. "We're looking at these cases on an individual basis."