Edgy Mama: Children separated from their families

I’m horrified by what’s happening to the children of the religious sect in Texas — and on so many levels.

More than 400 children were removed from the Yearning for Zion Ranch during a weeklong raid in early April. The raid was prompted by a call to a domestic-abuse hotline by a teenager reporting that she was beaten and sexually abused by her much-older husband. That call may or may not have been a hoax. So far, the girl hasn’t been located. The children were removed from the ranch, which is owned by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, because the group supposedly forces girls into marriage and child-bearing.

Let me say that no women of any age should ever be forced into marriage or sexual relations. Period. And I agree with the government that girls under the age of 16 should be protected from these atrocities and removed from the abusive situation promptly.

Yes, state of Texas officials, you’re right to take abused girls away from their abusers.

But why exactly did you take all of the girls, from nursing babies to teenagers, away from their families? And why did you insist on removing all the male children as well? The argument that the boys are being groomed as perpetrators holds a tiny bit of water, but not for the young ones. I can’t even groom my 6-year-old to wipe his mouth with a napkin.

In Texas’ fury to protect the innocent, I think they’ve done the opposite: They’re punishing the innocent—the children.

Despite protests from the parents, most of whom say they are not engaged in polygamous or underage marital practices, every one of their children has been ripped away from home and put into foster care. Supposedly, officials are now letting mothers of babies under 12 months stay with their babies in a group facility. I guess feeding nursing moms is less expensive than formula.

Obviously, this is a complicated situation. But why haven’t the abusers been arrested? If this crime’s so widespread, why haven’t the men who perpetrated it been removed from the ranch instead of the children? Is even the whiff of polygamy so horrendous that it’s worth traumatizing more than 400 children?

The state says that the children who haven’t been abused may be returned to their families, although it could take several more weeks to review each case. These children have already spent weeks in a holding facility, and many are now being bused to foster-care institutions around the state, some more than 500 miles away.

The Texas Legislature reformed the state’s foster-care system after a series of highly publicized abuses in 2004. However, serious problems remain, according to a 2007 report prepared for Texas Appleseed, a group that researches social-services issues. So these children are entering a foster-care system that’s already seriously stressed. These are sheltered kids who’ve for the most part been home-schooled, have rarely seen television, and are used to eating food grown on the ranch. Just imagine the fear and confusion those kids must be feeling, especially if they land in a group home in downtown Houston.

The court-appointed psychologist, Dr. Bruce Perry, claims that the fundamentalist Mormons’ belief system is “abusive. It’s very authoritarian.” Yet he also concedes that the children could suffer in traditional foster care. Again, it makes sense to remove those most likely to have been abused from the situation. But why separate toddlers from their mothers when there is no evidence that they’ve been abused?

My family belongs to a church, and I imagine that there are a few members of our church who have done things that endanger their kids. Maybe they’ve gotten drunk and then driven their kids somewhere. Maybe they’ve smoked pot around their kids. So should the government come in and take all 300-something Unitarian-Universalist kids if a few parents mess up? Is the government telling the FLDSers that, because of their religious beliefs, they aren’t allowed to have kids? That sounds so 19th century.

The state of Texas seems to assume that every member of this church should not be allowed to have children. A divorced father, living in Nebraska (far, far away from the ranch) found out that his kids
had been forced from their home, where they lived with their mother, and into foster care. When he showed up at the holding facility to pick them up, his kids were loaded onto a bus and driven away.

Supposedly, more than 130 women, some of them mothers, voluntarily left the ranch when offered the opportunity. Why can’t these women have their kids back? Why can’t the children stay with relatives outside the ranch? Don’t some of them have grandparents?

I realize it’s been difficult to ascertain parentage with certain kids, and DNA testing has ensued. OK, then. Figure out who belongs to whom. Figure out which girls have been abused. Figure out which men have perpetrated these crimes. Then arrest their asses. Break up the sect if they’re breaking the laws. But don’t take loved children away from their parents until there is no other choice.

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6 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Children separated from their families

  1. Becky

    It bothered me too that they took the nursing babies away from their moms, and the boys too.
    On the other hand, read Elissa Wall or Carolyn Jessop’s books (women who escaped the cult), and you feel sorry for the boys in those cults as well. “Carolyn was miserable for years and wanted out, but she knew that if she tried to leave and got caught, her children would be taken away from her. No woman in the country had ever escaped from the FLDS and managed to get her children out, too. But in 2003, Carolyn chose freedom over fear and fled her home with her eight children. She had $20 to her name.” Read Jessop’s account of the beatings regularly administered to children, considered acceptable in this cult. It’s horrifying.

  2. Paul

    They need to help the moms who want to leave the place connect with their kids somewhere safe, with some kind of support system. As if. Our budget doesn’t cover that. Think of what the millions of dollars every single day in Iraq could do…. for these, and all other battered and abused women and children.

    From Anderson Cooper’s report:

    http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2008/05/02/children-of-polygamy-broken-bones-broken-spirits/

    Barbara took Wendell into the room where she had beaten Patrick and let him have it. When Barbara beat a baby she would typically spank him until he was blue in the face from screaming. Then she would stop, order the baby to stop screaming, and start beating him again when the hysterical child continued to scream. Eventually the baby would collapse from exhaustion when he was too weak to cry.

  3. Suzanne Jones

    Right on, Anne Fitten! I’m glad you gave voice to this horrible situation. I couldn’t agree with you more, and I also found Becky’s comment very helpful in understanding this trauma for the children.

    I want to point out that the psychologist, Dr. Perry, in saying that the Mormon’s belief system is ‘abusive.'”is incorrect or maybe just confused.

    The Church of Latter Day Saints repudiated polygamy in the middle of the 19th century, and mainstream Mormon’s have been monogamous since that time. The sect that is in the news is not part of the church at all. It’s entirely separate and its members should be referred to as members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints.

    Dr. Perry in his statement called them simply “Mormons,” and that unfairly links them with a church that will have nothing to do with their beliefs and acts.

  4. Gordon Smith

    On the flip side – if the Child Services left some kids, and those kids were then abused, it would be the fault of Child Services. This is a worst case scenario action that isn’t uncommon.

    I imagine there are a lot of these kids who return to their families, but not their community. We’ll see whether it does them good or ill.

    I’m guessing that many of those children who were being abused haven’t yet spoken of it and are entirely thankful to be protected.

    If I were in charge of the Child Protective Services, I think I would have done the same thing. Step one – make sure you don’t put any more kids in harm’s way. Step two – figure out who needs what. Protect then serve.

    It’s imperfect, but the thought of leaving some children there because they said no one abused them would be impossible to live with. So many victims withhold that information that the only responsible thing to do is to ensure everyone’s safety before digging deeper to figure out what to do next.

  5. ncain

    “Maybe they’ve gotten drunk and then driven their kids somewhere. Maybe they’ve smoked pot around their kids. So should the government come in and take all 300-something Unitarian-Universalist kids if a few parents mess up?”

    No, they shouldn’t. But, if your entire congregation is getting drunk and driving around with kids in the car on a regular basis because they think it is what some imaginary man in the sky wants them to do, then someone does need to step in. It’s not a few people here. You’re talking about an entire culture that exists for the sole purpose of justifying rape. The entire cult exists so old men can get their jollies with teenage girls without having to worry about getting arrested. It’s not harmless. You’re missing the point.

  6. Don M

    As someone who was raised in a cult and saw brainwashing and people being coerced to do horrific things firsthand – all in the name of God, I am all for getting those kids out as early as possible. Sure some will be pissed and 20 years from now they’ll be on 60 minutes talking about how they were “ripped” from their mothers arms, but trust me … it’s better.

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