Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mental health workers blast CPS for separating polygamist families

Marie, 32, who lived at the ranch with her three boys,
told of her 11-day stay in a San Angelo shelter.

Mental health workers blast CPS for separating polygamist families
12:00 AM CDT on Monday, May 12, 2008

SAN ANTONIO – Removing children from a polygamist sect's West Texas ranch was unnecessary and traumatizing, several mental health workers sent to aid the families wrote.

TONY GUTIERREZ/The Associated Press

Marie, 32, who lived at the ranch with her three boys, told of her 11-day stay in a San Angelo shelter.

In a set of unsigned written reports, workers with Hill Country Community Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center said that the Child Protective Services investigation of suspected child abuse and its decision to ask for state custody of all 464 children punished mothers who appeared to be good parents of healthy, emotionally normal kids, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

"The mothers are incredibly loving and patient with the children. The children were well-socialized and well-behaved and interacted willingly and happily with us," one wrote.

Another wrote: "The children were sweet and well-mannered upon our arrival. They obeyed their mothers and appeared to be healthy and well-nourished. They had none of the traditional withdrawal common in abused children."

A board member provided the newspaper copies of the nine reports by MHMR employees, written at the request of MHMR's regional governing board. A sexual abuse complaint prompted an April 3 search of the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, home to a Mormon breakaway sect called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Enough evidence of "spiritual marriages," pregnancy and childbirth by young girls at the ranch existed to remove all the children from their parents because of the risk of child abuse, CPS has argued.

To respond to the reports, CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins asked for written questions. He replied with a two-sentence e-mail Thursday: "We have received no complaints from Hill Country MHMR. However, we will be looking into what are obviously very serious allegations, and sharing these allegations with other agencies as appropriate."

He said Friday that the agency had no further response.

The MHMR workers helped staff large shelters in San Angelo where mothers were at first allowed to stay with the children. Only mothers of younger children were allowed to remain after the first few days.

Many of the MHMR workers described child welfare workers as high-handed, rude and uncaring toward the mothers.

"The entire MH support staff was 'fired' the second week; we were sent home due to being 'too compassionate,' " one report stated.

Two of the MHMR workers reported seeing CPS workers treating mothers and children with friendliness and compassion. But one of the MHMR workers reported being threatened with arrest for questioning a decision to separate special needs children from their mothers even though earlier in the day the mothers were told that would not happen.

That worker was among three who reported that CPS workers lied to the mothers. Several said the mothers were denied access to their lawyers.

One MHMR worker's claim agreed with information on an FLDS Web site. Both said that after the mothers were given a choice to return to the ranch or stay at a battered women's shelter, most mothers went to the shelter, "because they were told they would be able to see their children if they did not return to the ranch," the worker reported.

Kevin Dinnin, president of Baptist Child and Family Services, served as incident commander at the shelter under a contract between his agency and the state. He said he couldn't confirm many of the allegations made by the MHMR workers.

"Some of it is unfounded," he said. "Some of it is accurate, depending on your point of view. Were the shelters crowded? Yeah. But it's a shelter. And yes, CPS workers were taking notes and listening. Yes, they were always around. I'm not defending CPS, but it's hard to give people privacy in a shelter."

He said that better communications could have reduced tensions between CPS and the MHMR staff.

The written statements were given to the Hill Country MHMR board anonymously because the workers had signed agreements not to disclose what they had seen, said board member Jack Dawson.

Mr. Dawson, a Comal County commissioner, said the employees had the right to provide information to the board and said his release of copies of the statements didn't violate their confidentiality agreements.

"We were taken aback. I have every confidence their stories are accurate," Mr. Dawson said. "Our people are professionals, with years and years of service in their fields."

Original Article-

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