Polygamists' progeny

Now that authorities have raided the FLDS sect in Eldorado, Texas, the state has a huge problem on its hands: What to do with all those children.

By Catherine Price

Published April 15, 2008 5:12PM (EDT)

So here's a job I'm glad I don't have: being a judge (or, for that matter, a lawyer) assigned to deal with the massive child custody case that's erupting as a result of the raid on the polygamist sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Eldorado, Texas. You know what I'm talking about -- the one where the as-of-yet unidentified 16-year-old girl called a domestic abuse hotline to say she'd been raped and beaten by her 50-year-old husband? As a result of the call, authorities raided the sect and took away mothers and 416 children from the compound. Until Monday, the mothers and kids had been in Fort Concho -- but yesterday all the kids over 4 years old were separated from their mothers and sent to the San Angelo Coliseum. (The mothers were allowed to go either to the compound or another "safe location," the Times reports.)

According to a spokesperson from Texas's Child Protective Services, "It is not the normal practice to allow parents to accompany the child when an abuse allegation is made." Fair enough. But most "normal" allegations of abuse don't come from within polygamist sects with more than 400 children involved. Now you've got mothers sent back to live in the cult -- giving potentially pre-rehearsed interviews to the press -- and the kids, some of whom now have chicken pox, are on their own in a shelter. Does anyone else think this sounds like a bad idea? It seems to me that in a case this massive and unusual, normal rules should be bent and mothers (under supervision) should be allowed to stay with their kids until the state has figured out how to proceed with the case. It's not a perfect solution -- and I don't mean to imply that the fathers were the only abusive parents (or that all the parents were abusive, for that matter) -- but it seems like a good idea to maintain as much stability as possible for the children while the grown-ups figure out what the hell to do.

Which brings me back to my original point: I'm glad I don't have to work on this lawsuit. The judge in charge of the case, Judge Barbara Walther of State District Court, hasn't yet decided how to run the hearing, due to the logistical challenge of dealing with so many children -- "It would seem inefficient to have a witness testify 416 times," she's quoted as saying. She admitted to the Times, "Quite frankly, I'm not sure what we're going to do."

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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