Deal To Return Polygamist Kids Monday - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Deal To Return Polygamist Kids Monday

Martha Emack, one of the parents from from the Yearning For Zion Ranch at Eldorado, Texas, approaches a news conference outside the Texas Capitol Thursday, May 29, 2008, in Austin, Texas. Martha Emack, one of the parents from from the Yearning For Zion Ranch at Eldorado, Texas, approaches a news conference outside the Texas Capitol Thursday, May 29, 2008, in Austin, Texas.
Dan Jessop and his wife Louisa Bradshaw are surrounded by cameras as they leave the Tom Green County Courthouse, Friday, May 23, 2008 after a custody hearing on their newborn son. Dan Jessop and his wife Louisa Bradshaw are surrounded by cameras as they leave the Tom Green County Courthouse, Friday, May 23, 2008 after a custody hearing on their newborn son.
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints mothers including Esther Jessop Barlow, left, and Monica Sue Jessop, right, each with five children in custody. Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints mothers including Esther Jessop Barlow, left, and Monica Sue Jessop, right, each with five children in custody.
(CBS/AP) Texas authorities and a polygamist sect have reached a tentative agreement to begin returning children taken by the state starting Monday.

A draft agreement released in court by Texas Child Protective Services attorney Gary Banks on Friday said the parents can get their children back after showing identifications and pledging to
take parenting classes and remain in Texas.

The agreement was reached with the 38 mothers of the 124 children who filed the complaint that prompted the Texas Supreme Court to rule Thursday that the state overstepped its authority in taking more than 400 children.

But the deal would affect nearly all the children since they were removed under identical circumstances.

"I'm happy (when) all the children are back to their mothers and we're home," said Martha Emack, who was visiting her 1-year-old and 2-year-old in foster care in Austin when word of the ruling arrived Thursday.

The court said child welfare officials overstepped their authority and the children should be returned to their parents, a crushing blow to the state's massive seizure of children from the polygamist sect's ranch in western Texas.

The high court affirmed a decision by an appellate court last week, saying Child Protective Services failed to show an immediate danger to the more than 400 children swept up from the Yearning For Zion Ranch nearly two months ago.

"On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted," the justices said in their ruling issued in Austin.

The high court let stand the appellate court's order that Texas District Judge Barbara Walther return the children from foster care to their parents. It's not clear how soon that may happen, but the appellate court ordered her to do it within a reasonable time period.

Walther may still put restrictions on where the parents could live, for example, once the children are returned.

The ruling says the state can grant "other appropriate relief" to protect the children, reports CBS News correspondent Hari Sreenivasan

CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen says that means that Texas will be able to closely watch events at the ranch in Eldorado.

"They'll be able to check on these children from time to time or limit the sect's chance to keep things the private," Cohen said. "This is a ruling that gives both sides a little of what they wanted."

The ruling shatters one of the largest child-custody cases in U.S. history. State officials said the removals were necessary to end a cycle of sexual abuse at the ranch in which teenage girls were forced to marry and have sex with older men, but parents denied any abuse and said they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Every child at the ranch run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Eldorado was removed; half were 5 or younger.

CPS officials said they were disappointed by the ruling but would take immediate steps to comply.

"We are disappointed, but we understand and respect the court's decision," the agency said in a written statement.

The case before the court technically only applies to the 124 children of 38 mothers who filed the complaint that prompted the ruling, but it significantly affects nearly all the children since they were removed under identical circumstances.

The Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled last week that the state failed to show that any more than five of the teenage girls were being sexually abused, and had offered no evidence of sexual or physical abuse against the other children.

The FLDS, which teaches that polygamy brings glorification in heaven, is a breakaway sect of the Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

Roughly 430 children from the ranch are in foster care after two births, numerous reclassifications of adult women initially held as minors and a handful of agreements allowing parents to keep custody while the Supreme Court considered the case.

Texas officials claimed at one point that there were 31 teenage girls at the ranch who were pregnant or had been pregnant, but later conceded that about half of those mothers, if not more, were adults. One was 27.

Under state law, children can be taken from their parents if there's a danger to their physical safety, an urgent need for protection and if officials made a reasonable effort to keep the children in their homes. The high court agreed with the appellate court that the seizures fell short of that standard.

CPS lawyers had argued that parents could remove their children from state jurisdiction if they regain custody, that DNA tests needed to confirm parentage are still pending and that the lower-court judge had discretion in the case.

The justices said child welfare officials can take numerous actions to protect children short of separating them from their parents and placing them in foster care, and that Walther may still put restrictions on the children and parents to address concerns that they may flee once reunited.
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