Last week a Texas appeals court ruled that the state of Texas had acted inappropriately when it seized 468 children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in west Texas. That decision was upheld Thursday by the Texas supreme court. From the New York Times:
The court said the record did “not reflect any reasonable effort on the part of the department to ascertain if some measure short of removal and/or separation would have eliminated the risk.”
It said that the evidence of danger to the children “was legally and factually insufficient” to justify the removal and that the lower court had “abused its discretion” in failing to return the children to the families.
From the Washington Post:
“Even if one views the FLDS belief system as creating a danger of sexual abuse by grooming boys to be perpetrators of sexual abuse and raising girls to be victims of sexual abuse,” the three-judge panel wrote, “. . . there is no evidence that this danger is ‘immediate’ or ‘urgent’ . . . with respect to every child in the community.”
Of particular interest to other communities was the courts statement that the community did not constitute a single household:
The notion that the entire ranch community constitutes a “household” as contemplated by section 262.201 and justifies removing all children from the ranch community if there even is one incident of suspected child sexual abuse is contrary to the evidence. The Department’s witnesses acknowledged that the ranch community was divided into separate family groups and separate households. While there was evidence that the living arrangements on the ranch are more communal than most typical neighborhoods, the evidence was not legally or factually sufficient to support a theory that the entire ranch community was a “household” under section 262.201.
The Mormon Community’s families, as well as many child-welfare experts, say that the separation of the children from their families will likely have negative and long lasting effects. From the New York Times:
They say a growing body of research supports the contention of the mothers that forceful removal can have both significant short-term and long-lasting harm, particularly for younger children. Some studies have found that the wide-ranging effects include anxiety, extreme distrust of strangers and, in the future, higher rates of teenage pregnancy and juvenile incarceration.
Legal issues for the ranch are not over as the state will continue to investigate specific cases of abuse. Again the New York Times:
State and federal criminal investigations are under way and could still produce criminal charges.
“It’s really unfortunate, because obviously there are some children who have been sexually abused,” Ms. McCurley, a lawyer representing some of the children, said. “But this doesn’t keep them from coming back and having another hearing. They could get their proof together, for example have a doctor come in and say this child is 13 years old and she has already given birth to another child, and the father of that child is 46 years old.
At this point it is unclear when the children will be returned to their families as the legal process has hit another snag:
Negotiations for the state’s release of more than 460 children who were removed from a polygamist sect in April broke down Friday in a scene of chaos and bitterness in a courtroom in this West Texas city. Lawyers for the families said the judge overseeing the release lacked authority to impose restrictions on it, and the judge, in disagreement, ended the proceedings and walked out of the courtroom.
Court Says Texas Illegally Seized Sect’s Children (New York Times)
Appeals Court Ruling
Court Rejects Seizure Of Tex. Sect’s Children (Washington Post)
Sect Mothers Say Separation Endangers Children (New York Times)
Texas Loses Court Ruling Over Taking of Children (New York Times)
Deal to Return Children to Sect Breaks Down (New York Times)