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April 23rd, 2008
03:18 PM ET

A better solution for the children of polygamy?

Gabe Falcon
360° writer

To the State of Texas and the FLDS:

As I’m writing this, scores of infants, toddlers, children and teenagers from the polygamist Yearning for Zion Ranch are being bused across the state, ferried in all directions, hundreds of miles away from their home, to live with foster parents and families.

The judge presiding over this unprecedented custody battle believes it’s in the best interests of the children that they be separated from their biological parents because all of them are in imminent risk of harm.

There is strong evidence to suspect that is true, including multiple allegations that the church arranges marriages between older men and underage girls. The church also practices plural marriages and holds a convicted felon up as a prophet of god. And there are assorted allegations suggesting followers are victimized and brainwashed.

But are the children really better off in foster care?

While the debate rages, should authorities consider less extreme remedies to the problem? Instead of placing the kids in homes far away from the ranch, for example, they could bring them back to the compound and let social workers monitor them.

Child Protection Services case workers, lawyers assigned to the children and other parties, court members... all could have 24/7 access to the children inside the compound. The boys and girls – hundreds we’re talking about here – could move back home with their multiple mothers and siblings, which might create far less trauma to children who have done nothing wrong.

This is not brain surgery. A simple court order could make this possible.

You have to wonder if finding a viable alternative that keeps the children with their mothers in familiar surroundings might be in their best interests.


Filed under: Gabe Falcon • Polygamy
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Rodney, Brooklyn, NY

    I have read these comments with some amazement. Amazed to see the level of bigotry, intollerance and ignorance that's pervasive in this society. I may be wrong, but it seems from the majority of comments that the contributers have concluded that the lifestyle practised by this group is abusive and wrong, because it is not like what we are accustomed to. Consequently, I am forced to ask these questions.

    . What was the motivation of the caller who made the allegation
    against the group?
    . Was anyone else complicit in this action?
    . Was the allegation properly invstigated?
    . What evidence of child abuse was discovered, relevant to what exist
    in the open society (eg. violence, prostitution, sex abuse, drugs
    etc.)?
    . Is the government really justified in its action, and what law/s did
    these people break?
    . What guarantee could the government give these parents that their
    children will get better social, psychological and economic
    support?

    I personally feel we should all step back, take a deep breath and be more rational and broad minded in the way we treat others. Let us remove the beam from our own eyes before removing the mote from our neighbour's. There are enough issues in the open society for us to clean up. So if these people want to live a simpler and different life, just let them – providing they observe the law of the land.

    April 25, 2008 at 12:57 am |
  2. Dori

    As a professional with many years of experience in crisis intervention and victim advocacy, including domestic violence and sexual abuse involving child victims, I thank the State of Texas authorities.

    The "less extreme measures" you note are no measures at all. These children's own community abuses them, and if they are young males, eventually banishes and abandons them. You would place them back in that environment with their abusers and adult victims who are unable to protect themselves, much less their children, and attempt to monitor it?

    Think back to the horror of Jim Jones' closed community of Jonestown and what his adult "religious" followers did to themselves and to their innocent children. 913 people, of which 276 were children, died in that mass murder-suicide. Did those children deserve what their parents thought was "right" for them?

    How soon we forget.... Enough said.

    April 24, 2008 at 10:46 pm |
  3. Daisy, AZ

    In some ways agree with you, Mr. Falcon, and want to make a point you missed. In returning the children to their families they might have an easier time determining who is "married" to whom and what children belong to each of the sister-wives. However given the sect's history of child abuse and threats made to those who talk this would not be feasable. Children would be scared speak out against their abuser's while they lived with them. As well as the fact that these children are taught not only is this acceptable behavior, but their very salvation depends on it. Also why has no one addressed the thousands of dollars these cultists bleed from the welfare system claiming the seven children they have all came from different truck drivers and cannot be found? Amazing a culture supposedly founded on fundamentalist values encourages young mother's to claim they are unwed to gain welfare benefits. If the man is man enough to have three wives and 10 children then shouldn't he support them all instead of the "evil" government?

    April 24, 2008 at 3:48 pm |
  4. Rick, Ottawa, Canada

    Given there are grounds to remove and protect the children from the Texas FLDS community, why are they not getting the kids out of the other FLDS/polygamist communities" in the USA ?

    April 23, 2008 at 10:32 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    It would be nice if the children could stay with their mothers but the mothers don't see that their lifestyle is abusive and can't even protect themselves. The solution of enhanced supervision would take more staff than are available and it would only delay the inevitable removal of the children. Given the evidence of abuse found at the ranch Texas CPS and the judge have acted in the best interests of the child in removing them from the abusive and brain washing environment. Look at Britney's comment about being in foster care – it is better when abuse exists to go to a foster home than stay where you are.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 23, 2008 at 9:43 pm |
  6. Ann

    There are many members of FLDS that have either escaped or have been forced to leave there community. Some of these people have been brave enough to provide first hand information regarding the emotional and physical abuse they suffered while living in the FLDS community. From what I have heard the abuse begins at infancy . It has also been made clear that these mothers are unable to protect their children. Although the situation may not be ideal I do believe it was the right move to separate the mothers from the children. I acknowlege Dr. Smith's view regarding damage done by separating children under the age of two from there mothers ,however I agree with TA Cheramie that leaving a child in an abusive situation is more damaging.

    April 23, 2008 at 9:20 pm |
  7. Marla R. Stevens

    And how, other than to pair one-for-one a social worker with each kid, are they to accomplish this sort of enhanced supervised visitation while simultaneously avoiding parental attempts at obstruction of justice?

    How would the kids in that nothing if not symbolic environment ever become free enough to finally start telling the truth, given the Manson-esque control we've already seen the FLDS leadership exert over their flock cum personal herds?

    April 23, 2008 at 9:02 pm |
  8. tammi vancouver bc canada

    i agree with u tammy well said
    it would be over my dead body these
    kids need to feel safe again it will be a long
    hard road

    April 23, 2008 at 8:55 pm |
  9. K@KatchProFILMS

    Excellent idea

    (re: monitering c/o Social Workers; back with familiersurroundings/adults (at least, mothers) who clearly love them).

    Common sense... you know... less or no trauma (drama?) for these kids... these children - like they're not already "brain washed" and numb... perhaps, petrified? (I mean, who would'nt be under these circumstances?).

    Where's AMERICA here?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 23, 2008 at 8:25 pm |
  10. Brittany

    As someone who was removed from her biological mother's home at the age of 4 because the State deemed her an unfit mother, I can attest to the fact that it made a word of difference. I have several half-siblings that are quite a bit older than I am and the damage she inflicted upon them is irreparable. I am not, as Dr. Smith says "irreversibly damaged." Conversely, I am one of seven children graduating high school . I am the only one to be accepted into a state university. I am the only one awarded academic scholarships for achievement I am also the only one who got away from that woman.

    The court is absolutely right in getting those children away. It is absolutely in their best interest. I am happy that each child is being represented separately; I think that will ensure fairness to each separate case.

    April 23, 2008 at 8:22 pm |
  11. Jimmy

    I think it is terrible our world is so much more confusing then the one they left. It takes a lifetime to understand the right and wrong in our society, personal freedom is something they have not experienced. They will be targets for abusers, who know they were brought up to beleive it is okay.
    I think they should let them go home and montor the actions at the compound. No longer allow the abuse. Let them stay with the mothers.

    April 23, 2008 at 7:45 pm |
  12. TA Cheramie, PhD

    To Dr. Smith-medical practitioners don't generally know a thing about mental health. It's something I've learned over the years in attempting to co-exist in the field with MD's who assume they know more but really have no clue. I'm not sure if you're a pediatrician or child psychiatrist (spouting off your facts one would think you'd make that information clear), but I've taught infant and child development on a college-level multiple times, have a masters and PhD in Counselor Education, and am a permanently certified K-12 school counselor in my state. I've counseled toddlers to the elderly over the years. I've worked inpatient addictions treatment. I've worked with the criminal justice system. I've dealt with the results of abuse cases that would make most people's stomachs turn. While removing a child from the mother may be damaging under normal circumstances, leaving a child in an abusive situation is far more damaging over the lifespan. The potential risk of damage (a huge unknown that can't be ignored) is far greater than the benefit of leaving a child in a psychologically warped environment. To potentially subject a child knowing what the history was of this compound and not knowing how far the abuse would spiral after these events unfolded is to neglect one's duties as a mental health professional, healthcare professional, and human being. The State of Texas acted within its duty of care to these children to prevent any potential abuse from happening. I'd suggest if you have professional ethical issues with this, you take it up with the state board. I'm sure they'd love to hear your complaint. And I'd love to see if your research dealt with children of cults and abuse.

    April 23, 2008 at 7:13 pm |
  13. Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA

    Foster care isn't the perfect solution, but until someone can come up with a better solution, foster care is certainly better than condemning these children to a life in this cult.

    April 23, 2008 at 6:53 pm |
  14. Andi

    I agree with you Gabe, It makes me ill that there seems to be a lack of creativity with the way they are rushing to remove these children. The narrow minded thinking that seems to be prevailing (right now) is alarming.

    April 23, 2008 at 6:19 pm |
  15. Dr. Smith

    It is concerning that no one has mentioned the fact that children 2 years and younger are irreversibly damaged when they are removed from their mothers at that age. This is a well studied and well known psychology while the consequences are major. There does not appear to have been a good reason to remove the young children because the alledged abuse was of the older children. In the medical field, we use the "Benefit vs Risk" rule to make decisions. Here, the process is mass-action without regard for the consequences. The damage to the young children was simply not worth the risk. The fate of all of the children could well have been determined without removing the younger children while the legal machine runs it course.

    Dr. Smith, Southern CA

    April 23, 2008 at 5:38 pm |
  16. Tracy

    Judy, I have to ask since you are so critical of foster parents, have you ever fostered a child? Have you ever done one thing for abused and neglected children aside from spout your stereotypical nonsense condemning foster parents. For your information, a foster parent is paid a stipend of around $300 to care for an infant. The stipends decrease as the children age. Out of that $300, foster parents have to feed, cloth, house, and transport the child, in addition to providing parental care involving personnal time and sacrifice. In case you are completely out of touch, formula and diapers for an infant are not cheap. Any babysitting that is needed, so that foster parents can have much deserved breaks, is paid for out of the foster parent's pockets. If the state of Texas does not have enough foster parents, individuals trained in caring for traumatized children, to care for these kids...what makes you think volunteers are going to step forward to care for them. Foster parenting is, after all, a voluntary position. Besides, what kind of public outcry would there be when the state placed these children in voluntary homes and one of them was abused???

    You are correct children are abused in foster care. Often the abuse is by other foster children, not foster parents. This abuse is a symptom of traumatized children being cared for in overcrowded homes. The solution? More people could sign-up to be foster parents. Maybe, if people like you would do something to help children such as these rather than spreading your uneducated propaganda; the strapped child welfare system could make some headway in solving the vast problems it faces.

    Regarding these particular children, I don't pretend to know enough about the situation to profess what is best for the children. Perhaps the state is sending the oldest (and therefore, most vulnerable to being married off and sexually abused) to foster homes, while trying to keep the younger children with their parents. There is, of course, the complication of not knowing who the children's parents really are due to the lying and lack of cooperation of the children's mothers. It is far to easy to sit in judgement from afar.

    April 23, 2008 at 5:26 pm |
  17. Lynn Lake County, CA

    It is a shame but the mothers that have children under 5 should have stayed with their kids. It will be moms loss, the kids will have a better chance to heal without them. The older children can easily be brainwashed by the brainwashed mothers. The mothers that didn't go back to the ranch need all the help they can get. The ones that went back may be past any help.

    April 23, 2008 at 5:18 pm |
  18. Tammy

    I'll simply ask this question to all those who believe these kids should go back to their mothers with "supervision" from CPS. If it were your child, would you want him or her to even have the remote possibility of being physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually abused for just one second by members of the same group who damaged your child before? For me the response would be over my dead body. Putting them back on the compound would be the most ludicrous thing the State of Texas could ever think about doing. While foster care may create initial trauma, in the long-term, it will be the best thing for these kids to have a chance at normal. And that doesn't happen by throwing them back in the dysfunctional world otherwise known as home.

    April 23, 2008 at 4:14 pm |
  19. Judy Stage Brooklyn MI

    Gabe, God, What a mess! The state is punishing the children for their parents actions. Rather than even going through the foster care system (whose adults also abuse children while they grub state money for their care) I would ask for volunteer parents to care for these children. I bet you could find many caring parents who would volunteer to care for a child just for the benefit of the child. I have six adult children and when they were teenagers, at least eight other kids stayed with us for various reasons. I realize the complexity of this situation legally but the separation trauma to these kids will take a life time to overcome.
    My heart goes out to the children but I am not quite as empathetic toward their mothers, at least toward the ones who have failed to keep their children safe.

    April 23, 2008 at 3:54 pm |
  20. Lorie Ann, Buellton, California

    I agree with you Gabe. If there ever was a time to cut through red tape, this would be it. No one has to go by the book if they feel it hurts the children worse. Infants and toddlers? Surely, with the world watching, authorities involved and every move monitored, the children could stay in their homes, with their mothers.

    Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.

    April 23, 2008 at 3:51 pm |
  21. Debbie, NJ

    The one thing these children have going for them as opposed to other children who are taken from their families is that their mother may well be with them. They don't even know who their true mother is anyway. There are so many of them that they can have some peace in not feeling alone also. They may not be in familiar surroundings but they do see familiar people.

    April 23, 2008 at 3:38 pm |