DFPS officials removed 468 children from the FLDS's 1,691-acre ranch near Eldorado, Texas, in early April. Two weeks later, state District Judge Barbara Walther ruled that there was evidence to indicate the children were at risk of sexual abuse if they returned to the ranch. Instead, she ordered that the children be sent to foster care facilities around the state.
The sect is known to sanction "spiritual marriages" of underage girls, usually to older men who already have one wife or more. The state originally said 30 of the 53 girls in custody believed to be minors (some girls gave conflicting accounts of their ages), either had children, were pregnant, or both. That number has since been lowered to about a dozen young women.
Last week, an appeals court reversed the earlier ruling. It found that the DFPS illegally removed the children from their homes and that they should be immediately returned. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court agreed. "On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted," the 6-to-3 majority said.
The parents of the children were overjoyed by Thursday's decision, their attorneys said.
"These mothers have never given up their fight to bring their families back together," says Kevin Dietz, the lead attorney for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which filed the petition with the appeals court on behalf of 38 FLDS mothers. "TRLA remains dedicated to working with the courts and [DFPS] to do what is in the best interest of these children. Right now, that means reuniting these families."
The DFPS and 51st District Court were in the process of holding hearings on the family-service plans when the appeals court ruled against them last week. Most of the plans called for the mothers to participate in counseling for sexual and physical abuse and participate in job training or become employed. The plans also provided details on where the family would live and how the children would be protected from potential sexual abuse. The plans also called for educational and psychological assessments of the children.
The hearings that had been scheduled for this week were postponed, but several plans had been agreed to by both the court and parent. It is not clear how those will be enacted now – or how the others will move forward.