Saturday, April 19, 2008


Just a quick post since, with all of this talk about foster care and child abuse, I can't not bring up the mess in Eldorado, Texas.  If you haven't been following the removal of over 400 children after a raid on a "ranch" (compound) owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), my favorite criminal justice blog, Grits for Breakfast, has a good round-up of coverage.

You'd think this would be a moot issue at this point, since the call that provoked the raid - allegedly made by a 16-year-old girl reporting abuse by her 49-year-old husband - has turned out to be a fake.  But, yesterday, a Texas judge ruled that all 416 children will stay with the state, and their parents will have to submit to DNA testing, undergo psychiatric evaluations, and agree to some sort of safety plan before the State will considering returning the children. 

ABC News reported earlier this week that CPS planned to argue that the ranch is one household, presumably so that the finding of one instance of abuse would allow the removal of all 416 children.  I don't know whether that happened, but it seems likely given the speed with which the court ruled on the custody of so many children.

True, I don't like the idea of polygamy or the thought of 16-year-old girls marrying men who could be their fathers.  And reports of the "lost boys" of FLDS are not too savory either.  Still, it's far from clear to me, in my admittedly extremely limited knowledge, that the "best interests" of these children mandate wholesale removal and placement in a Child Protective Services system that doesn't have a great track record even when it's not scrambling to deal with the sudden influx of over 400 children.


gale said...

It's interesting that there has been an outpouring of volunteer lawyers who want to represent the children and families. Also, the state has brought in the man (a Houstonian I think) who dealt with "reprogramming" the children who survived the Branch Davidian raid in Waco. That's a whole other story - maybe Ines should comment!

The idea of raiding a polygamous community has a long history - this was the technique the federal government used to battle polygamy in Utah for decades after the LDS church forbade the practice in 1890. The term "raid" and the practice of many polygamist Mormons to take "celestial marriages" underground is not new . . .

Also - I think the other interesting angle is how this raid has worried governmental officials in Nevada and Utah who have tried to build trusting relationships with similar groups in their states. Their goal is to stop child abuse and forced marriages through negotiations, not through raids.

JeremyC said...

Yes, I've been troubled by these stories too, conflicted between wanting to protect children and the issue of whether there was sufficient cause or evidence for the raid. That is, whether the risks and benefits were properly balanced.

The way these things play out in general is that CPS receives a report of possible abuse, and it is up to them to investigate to decide whether the accusation is founded or should be thrown out. However, CPS doesn't have the authority to perform a forced search or investigation. So, if you have a closed society like this and there is an accusation of abuse within that society and they do not permit CPS to investigate, then the only options are (1) to abandon the case, or (2) involve the police. Most people would find the first option unacceptable, and naturally the second is frequently messy and complicated.

We've had a lot of media attention paid to FLDS in the Jeffs case, which assuming the sects are related and that the practices for which he is accused are inherent in the society, increases the possibility that something is amiss. Secondly, that same media coverage makes inaction (or slow action) more unacceptable as a public/political matter.

Now, perhaps this issue could have been dealt with in a more nuanced fashion, especially given the already strained resources of any CPS department. On the other hand, I'm so glad I wasn't the one having to call the shots on this.

On the other hand, it's interesting and distressing that the raid seems to have been based on the arbitrary marriage age law in TX, and not the allegations of child or domestic abuse.

Perhaps TX in general seems like like to consider itself pretty Libertarian by permitting these "compounds" to develop, but then turns radically reactionary when something falls outside of acceptable norms? Maybe this disconnect is the origin of episodes like Waco and Eldorado.

lizzard said...

Have you seen these people in interviews on tv? I've seen them on the Today show as I'm getting ready for work, and they seem so strange. Not so much what they believe, but they aren't able to answer questions, and they seem like programmed robots. Maybe it is because they are uneducated, I don't know.

I just hope that this whole situation gives some of these children a view of the outside world that they are taught to fear. Hopefully they will understand that they do not have to live on that ranch if they don't want to.

gale said...

Although, Lizzy, I think the problem is that the "outside the ranch" the kids are experiencing are west Texas law enforcement and group homes. I'm not sure that's the best representation. In fact, if we think about the Oklahoma situation, it could be worse.

gale said...

Also: Laura, you might be interested in some summer reading on the subject - Sarah Gordon's The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America.

It's all lawyer-y and religion-y.