Texas child welfare authorities are seeking permanent conservatorship of a 14-year-old girl allegedly married to Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs.
The girl's mother wants a jury to ultimately decide who gets custody of all of her children. Barbara Jessop's attorney, Valerie J. Malara, filed a demand notice in an Eldorado, Texas, court, seeking a jury trial to decide custody over her three children.
The demand was filed in advance of a permanency hearing scheduled Thursday in San Angelo, Texas, where child welfare authorities were to update a judge on the girl's status in foster care.
The girl, believed to have been married at age 12 to Jeffs, was ordered back into foster care in August after a judge ruled Jessop failed to protect her from abuse. In a Child Protective Services status report filed in the case and obtained by the Deseret News on Monday, child welfare workers sought "permanent managing conservatorship" over the girl. In the immediate future, CPS is asking to keep the girl in foster care.
"We are still hopeful for reunification in this case, if it can be achieved," agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins said Monday.
Malara did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Permanent managing conservatorship would give CPS widespread authority over the girl under Texas law, including the right to decide care, education, medical care, legal rights, the right to consent to a marriage and even direct the "moral and religious training of the child."
The CPS report said Jessop "has not demonstrated herself as a safe and responsible caregiver."
A psychological evaluation in September described her as "moderately guarded and suspicious" and recommended more therapy sessions.
Jessop wants her daughter back, but the report said "Mrs. Jessop has no plan for how she might protect (the girl) from being placed in another marriage."
"The major concerns were that Mrs. Jessop does not believe that abuse to (the girl) happened, she does not take responsibility for her role in that abuse, she is dependent on people that had involvement in the abuse to (the girl), she does not have a plan to protect (the girl) other than her promise, she is minimally cooperative with CPS and seems to be deliberately misleading CPS about her marriage to Frederick Merril Jessop," the report said.
The girl is doing well in foster care, the report claims.
"(The girl) has kept busy with piano, schoolwork and reading," it said. "The foster family continues to expose (the girl) to new things through outings, family gatherings and other social activities."
In therapy, the report said the girl expressed sadness at not being around her family. Attempts to find relatives to care for her have not worked out, CPS said, noting one did not believe the girl had been abused and "agrees with underage marriage and supports plural marriages."
The girl has weekly visits with her mother in San Antonio. Recently, more of her siblings were allowed to visit her. She also has weekly phone calls with her mother. CPS complained about letters being sent to the girl originating from a blog, which it said has encouraged people to "kidnap" the girl from her foster home.
CPS claims to have been unable to contact Frederick Merril Jessop, the leader of the YFZ Ranch. One of his attorneys refused to provide contact information beyond the address of the ranch, the report said.
Jessop was recently indicted by an Eldorado grand jury on a charge of performing a marriage ceremony prohibited by law, accused of performing the ceremony between Jeffs and the girl. Shocking photos showing the FLDS leader kissing the girl were released during the ongoing custody case involving hundreds of children from the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch.
Approximately 439 children were removed from the ranch in April when CPS caseworkers and law enforcement responded to a call from someone claiming to be a pregnant 16-year-old in an abusive, polygamous marriage to an older man. CPS alleged a pattern of abuse at the ranch with girls groomed to be child brides and boys growing up to be sexual perpetrators.
The children were returned to their families two months later when an Austin appeals court and the Texas Supreme Court ruled the state acted improperly, and that the children were not at immediate risk of abuse. All but 15 children have been dropped from court oversight as the custody case drags on.
The phone call that sparked the raid is believed to be a hoax.
A CPS report claims to have found evidence of a dozen young women involved in underage marriages. The FLDS Church fired back, calling the report "as false and fraudulent as the original hoax telephone call that triggered the raid" on the YFZ Ranch.
A dozen FLDS men, including Jeffs, have been indicted on charges ranging from sexual assault of a child and bigamy to failure to report child abuse and performing a marriage ceremony prohibited by law. Some of the men are due back in court on Jan. 12.