Regardless of your thoughts on polygamy or the arranged marriage of teens, information dribbling out past the supercharged headlines in West Texas indicates that the 400+ kids seized by the state this week were well cared for. Can Texas' foster care system, frequently in the headlines for its own failures, promise the same?
Child services workers in Utah have a lot more experience than in Texas dealing with polygamist communities, so what do they have to tell us about what the Lone Star State should do with 416 children seized from the Eldorado compound in West Texas ("Scale of Texas' tough task unprecedented," Deseret News, April 9):
The scale of the decision by Texas child welfare workers to take 416 children into state custody dwarfs any endangerment response in Utah — or anywhere else for that matter.The distinction that these kids are not poorly cared for in general lies in sharp contrast to many of the cases CPS sees. For the most part polygamist children in Eldorado are loved by their parents, not abused. The alleged abuse stems from a reinterpretation (the law was changed in 2005) of marriage laws in Texas specifically targeting this religious sect.
Removing 416 children from their homes would be an overwhelming task for any state, local public and private child welfare workers said Tuesday.
Texas is literally warehousing the kids taken from the compound, although many had been placed with relatives in nearby towns.
One element in that case that may cushion the trauma for the children involved is their mothers are with them.
Texas Child Protective Services authorities have said they want to keep the mothers and children together as long as the mothers are willing to stay with the children.
This particular group of FLDS "operates in a sense as one, huge extended family," Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, told the Deseret Morning News Tuesday evening. "A case can be made that taking away all the children is like taking away all of the siblings in a family where several children allegedly were raped and beaten.
"On the other hand, the facts don't always turn out to be as CPS alleges," he notedWexler, who keeps close tabs on child welfare agencies nationwide — including Texas and Utah — said Texas is particularly unprepared to take so many children at once.
"For several years, (Texas) has been going through a foster-care panic, with huge surge in removals in the wake of deaths of children "known to the system,"' he said.
Whether or not these children needed to be removed, their suffering has been increased because Texas has taken so many other children there is little room for these children in the system," he said. "And that is a lesson every state should remember."
An option like that or an all-out call for help is really the only option at that scale, local child safety advocates believe. They said while the welfare of the children in the case is clearly the top priority, they privately said they wonder if the move might be a kind of pre-emptive "better safe than sorry" strategy.
"I certainly agree that the way children — particularly young women and girls — are treated is de facto abuse or worse," one state Division of Child and Family Services caseworker said. "But from what I've seen these kids are in no way neglected; not nearly to the degree of some of kids we meet here and around Salt Lake."
(As an aside, it strikes me as bizarre that in an age where the idea of changing the definition of marriage to include gay people generates such strident opposition, changing the marriage definition to target a specific religious sect seems to be entirely non-controversial. Irony, thy name is Eldorado.)
There's an arrogance in the state's decision to impose a group punishment for alleged acts by an individual against a victim who may not even exist. Again from the Deseret News (April 8):
So it's now a "courtesy" to let mothers stay with their children, but the fathers are confined to the compound and "don't have any right to visit their children." If the state had seized my daughter when she was a minor and placed me under house arrest, I'm sure my wife would have "voluntarily" agreed to stay with her, but it sure wouldn't seem very "voluntary."
State officials said the adult women are being sheltered as a courtesy to them and their children.
"These are women that wanted to come. They asked to come. They came voluntarily. They're free to leave anytime, but they have thus far chosen to stay," Meisner said.
Men at the YFZ Ranch are not allowed to leave their 1,700-acre compound while police investigators continue their search.
"We're controlling access to the ranch, in and out," Tela Mange, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Monday.
Even after the men are allowed to leave, they won't be able to see their children immediately.
"The men at this time don't have any right to visit their children at the shelter," Meisner said. A judge will have to decide later if visitation is appropriate.
The assumption here is that the state can and perhaps still will separate all these kids from their mothers, too, at any time (custody has already been transferred to CPS pending an April 17 hearing), which IMO would hardly be in the best interest of the child, especially in cases where no physical abuse is alleged, which is by far most of them. Ron in Houston was right when he declared in Grits' comments yesterday that "hell hath no fury like a social worker who thinks they're doing things in the best interests of the child."
And let's face it, CPS isn't the best-run state agency in Texas by a country mile. A 2004 House Research Organization publication declared (p. 2):
In its Forgotten Children report, the Comptroller’s Office found that the foster care system – a mix of state-run and outsourced services – faces many of the same problems as the abuse investigation area of CPS: too few case workers with insufficient experience to handle an increasing number of cases. In addition, the office found that inadequate licensing standards and lax enforcement of regulatory or contractual requirements allowed a wide array of living standards among foster homes.These problems are still far from solved, and won't be helped in the least by this tremendous bump in caseload, if all these kids ultimately wind up in foster care.
Another question arises: Who will pay for all this? Under state law it should be the county, but they can't afford the cost of housing the kids (and the "courtesy" of housing their mothers), much less paying for all their attorneys. So state government is scrambling to pick up the tab (under what authority, I do not know).
Anyway, CPS may turn out to be the weak link in all this from a pragmatic perspective. It's one thing to seize the kids with media-hyped allegations, but quite another to separate them all from their parents and place them in foster homes with culturally dissimilar hosts. Regardless of the legality I doubt there's the money, staff or families willing or able to take such youth readily available, certainly not in a culturally competent fashion that will help the kids more than harm them.
SEE ALSO: Related Grits posts rounded up here.