A 14-year-old girl from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch ordered back into foster care may be reunited with her mother by next year.
That's according to a progress report recently compiled by Texas Child Protective Services and obtained Wednesday by the Deseret News. The report is being presented to a judge in San Angelo, Texas, handling the massive custody case involving children from the Utah-based polygamous sect. The girl's case is scheduled for a permanency hearing on Sept. 25.
"The permanency goal for the child is family reunification," the report said, setting an April 13 reunion deadline.
The report concerns a girl whom child welfare authorities allege was married at age 12 to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. She was ordered back into foster care last month after the judge ruled her mother, Barbara Jessop, was unable to protect her from abuse.
Since the girl has been in state custody, CPS caseworkers wrote she has been "doing well" and is able to cook and garden in her foster home. She is in therapy and will participate in home schooling, but CPS is refusing to allow another FLDS member to tutor her, the report said.
Barbara Jessop also is required to undergo psychological evaluations, attend parenting classes and have a social study. But caseworkers say no progress has been made.
"Due to his lack of contact with the Department, Mr. Jessop too has not made any progress in mitigating the circumstances of his daughter's removal," the report said.
The girl's father is YFZ Ranch leader Merril Jessop, who has been absent from custody hearings. He is believed to be under investigation in the ongoing criminal probe involving church members.
"Ms. Jessop has not provided any locating information on Mr. Jessop, although she has been asked on multiple occasions," the report said.
Barbara Jessop first visited her daughter on Aug. 26. Since then, CPS caseworkers indicated Jessop has pushed the boundaries of her supervised visits, including bringing unapproved people with her and making unmonitored phone calls. The girl was not allowed to keep her cell phone while in foster placement, the CPS report said.
"After this visit, it was discovered that (the girl) had at least 21 unsupervised phone calls with her mother in a period of one week," the report said. "Both presented as though they had been adhering to the monitored phone contact only. Many of the phone calls occurred in the middle of the night and some lasted in duration of longer than 30 minutes."
While the report recommends family reunification, it threatens that if the girl's parents don't comply with a CPS family service plan, the agency will pursue restricting or terminating their parental rights.
The girl is one of 439 children initially taken into state custody in the April raid on the YFZ Ranch. She is the only one to be ordered back into foster care. Six other children whom CPS sought to retake custody of are under family service plans pursuant to agreements their parents reached with the agency.
On Wednesday, four more children were "nonsuited," bringing the total number of people dropped from court oversight in the nation's largest child custody case to 295. The Deseret News tally includes 26 FLDS women that CPS initially believed were minors, but later conceded were adults.
As the massive case drags on, more children are expected to be nonsuited. But Texas CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins said how many more will depend on a number of factors.
"It's difficult to know that right now," Crimmins told the Deseret News on Wednesday. "We're nonsuiting the cases as appropriate."
Those factors could include living situations that the children are in now. "Nonsuiting" removes a child from court jurisdiction and ends a number of requirements that parents are under, including parenting classes, requirements to stay in Texas and availability to CPS investigators. However, CPS could still have a role in their lives as the agency's child welfare investigation continues.
The growing number of children dropped from the case is being noted by a group pushing for systemwide reform of child welfare agencies.
"That means CPS effectively admits that it could have accomplished whatever it was it set out to do without traumatizing those children by throwing them into foster care," Richard Wexler, the executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, wrote on the group's Web site, nccpr.org.
The 439 children were ordered returned to their parents by a pair of Texas courts that ruled the state overstepped its authority in removing all of them, ruling they were not in immediate danger of abuse.
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