Kids from Polygamous Sect Remain in State Custody More than 400 children remain in the care of the state after reports of child sexual abuse prompted a raid on a Texas polygamist compound. Authorities maintain that they are protecting the kids, but families argue there was no evidence of abuse. Guests and callers weigh in on what's best for the children.
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Kids from Polygamous Sect Remain in State Custody

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LYNN NEARY, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan. More than three weeks after an anonymous phone call led to a raid on a polygamous compound in Texas, authorities say the children, more than 460 of them, are now in foster care. Parents from the YFZ Ranch continue their custody fight in Texas courts.

Over the weekend, one member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, sent a letter to the governor of Texas. In it he denied the charges of abuse, and said the accusations against the families resulted in, quote, "horrific violations of human rights." Texas authorities argue that all of the children at the ranch were in danger, and that there was a pattern of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

While the courts hear the legal arguments, the case is also playing out in the court of public opinion. Some argue that the state of Texas went too far, or raise questions about the anonymous tipster that led to the raid. Others say the raid was justified and taking custody of the children was the best way to protect them.

We'll talk with the spokesperson for several of the families involved in a moment, and we'll hear from a lawyer with the Children's Rights Clinic. If you've been following this case, what are your concerns? Give us a call at 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-8255. And you can reach us by email at talk@npr.org. Or join in the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

I want to start with NPR correspondent Howard Berkes. He's covered issues related to polygamy, and the FLDS Church specifically, for the past 25 years. He joins us now from his office in Salt Lake City, Utah. Thanks for being with us this afternoon, Howard.

HOWARD BERKES: Good to be with you, Lynn.

NEARY: Now, this question of whether or not the state of Texas went too far in this case is playing out in some very public ways. There was a demonstration outside the recent Utah Jazz games. Who was demonstrating and what exactly were they protesting? What were they saying?

BERKES: Well, there were two incidents of demonstrations outside the arena where the Utah Jazz were playing the Houston team in the NBA Finals - in the NBA Playoffs, rather. And there were people who were holding signs with - that were depicting the flag of the state of Texas and Nazi swastikas on the flag.

And they were basically arguing that this kind of raid in the United States harkens back to Nazi Germany, or to North Korea, or to Iran, that this kind of authoritarian action on the part of a state against women and children is horrific for all people.

And there were, in the group, some people who identified themselves as being members of the FLDS faith and others who are not polygamists, have nothing to with polygamy, but are concerned about the notion of a state overstepping its bounds.

NEARY: So, you're saying that these demonstrations were carried on by people who are not necessarily sympathetic to the cause of polygamy, but concerned about the implications of this case overall.

BERKES: Well, and you see in the letters to editor in newspapers all over the country, but also here in Utah, and you see on blogs, Mormon blogs, where Mormons, who do not accept polygamy - it was once a part of their faith but hasn't been for quite a long time. Mormons are taught to shun polygamists. Anybody who is Mormon who's found to be practicing polygamy is excommunicated without question.

But you even see sympathy among Mormons, in the Mormon blogs and the letters to the editor in the newspapers, where, again, it's the rejection of polygamy versus the actions of the state and the state taking steps that some people feel go too far, threaten everybody's, sort of, individual rights, if the state can step in, in the way it has in Texas, sweep away the kids, break up families, in what has occurred so far.

NEARY: As we mentioned, you've been covering these kinds of issues for many years. Is the first time you've seen a group of polygamists like this get this kind of public sympathy?

BERKES: Well, this is the first time something like this has happened, in terms of a raid, since 1953. And back in 1953, this same group - it wasn't called the FLDS at that time. They were called something else. But this same group was the subject of a similar raid that was triggered by concerns about underage marriages, marriages involving underage girls, sexual activity between underage girls and older men.

And at that time, the state of Arizona raided what was then known as Short Creek, Arizona. There were some 86 women and 263 children taken into custody. They spent two years, basically, in state custody. And there were about 30 men who were arrested, who only served about two months in jail. Most of them pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit "open and notorious cohabitation," and got probation.

There were no criminal convictions. The whole thing was perceived at the time as such a boondoggle. It became such a public relations disaster for the state of Arizona that the governor of Arizona at the time, Howard Pyle, was defeated in his reelection the next year, and this was cited as one of the main reasons.

NEARY: We're talking with NPR's Howard Berkes. We're discussing the case of the more than 460 children who are in custody in the state of Texas under Child Protective Services. They were taken from a compound - a raid on a compound where polygamy was practiced, and there has been a debate over whether the state possibly overstepped its bounds or whether it should be protecting the children from possible abuse.

We'd like to know what your concerns and questions are about this. If you want to give us a call, the number is 800-989-8255. And joining us now is Rodney Parker. He's a lawyer based in Salt Lake City and he's a spokesperson for many of the FLDS families in this case. He joins us now from a studio at member station KCPW in Salt Lake. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Parker.

Mr. RODNEY PARKER (Of Counsel, Families of the FLDS Yearn for Zion Ranch): You're welcome.

NEARY: Let's start with that raid. Do you think authorities did have the right to go into the compound, based on the evidence they had at that time?

Mr. PARKER: Well, you have to take this one day at a time, in terms of what happened in the raid. The authorities initially had a call from a person who claimed to be inside, who claimed that she was being abused. I don't believe there were any efforts made to corroborate what was being told then. Nevertheless, they went into the ranch that day looking for one person.

Three days later, we were in a situation where every child had been removed from the ranch. The mothers were in with their children in a barracks living situation, and tanks and machine guns had been used to effectuate that result. So, while I think that, in a normal situation where a cry for help comes from a home, there might be a right to go in and check that call out. It certainly doesn't justify what happened here.

NEARY: What you're saying - what? The fact that the children are now in custody without their parents?

Mr. PARKER: Well, the fact...

NEARY: Or you're saying that - go ahead.

Mr. PARKER: The fact that 400 - every child in the community has been taken into custody and these parents are, right now, in a position that if they're members of this faith, or even live on the ranch, they can't have children, regardless of their - what they think.

NEARY: Now, that has not been decided yet. These cases are still pending in court.

Mr. PARKER: Well, that's correct. But it's been decided on a temporary basis.

NEARY: It's been decided on a temporary basis. And...

Mr. PARKER: Yes.

NEARY: The state of Texas would say that investigators that they sent there indicated there was a pattern of abuse at the compound, that young girls were being groomed to marry much older men. Isn't that a valid reason to take children into custody? I mean, aren't there some issues here of possible child abuse?

Mr. PARKER: Well, I don't know what they - what evidence they observed on the ranch that would support that kind of inclusion. I think what really happened here is that CPS went in there with a preconceived notion as to what was going on on the ranch. And they didn't really observe anything on the ranch.

I know that they presently have in custody two out of the 406, 403 - well, whatever the number is. I think the latest we've heard is 462 children, that - there are two pregnant teenagers, one of whom is almost 18, one of whom is 17. We don't have good information right now about the ages of the fathers of the children that they're carrying. But that, certainly, is not consistent with what the state of Texas is offering in terms of their justifications for what they did.

NEARY: All right. We're going to take a call now from Karen, and she's calling from Sacramento, California. Hi, Karen. Go ahead.

KAREN (Caller): Hi. I'll take my answer off the air. The question I have is, when Child Protective Services went in, what was the timeframe that they used in terms of their investigation? And why wasn't that shown prior to this raid? I'm not a Mormon. I don't really understand all of this. But the one thing is that I know that you have to go in and investigate, and that's what I'm not seeing...

NEARY: I'm sorry, so you're saying the timeframe of the investigation beforehand, how much time they'd spent investigating?

KAREN: Yeah, so what they actually did, and what the timeframe was. When the gentleman who was just speaking said that they went in and found these - evidence of this and this and this. Well, if they went in for three days, I mean, it would have to be some blatant things. So I mean, what really was the timeframe? And what did they really observe?

NEARY: Rodney Parker?

Mr. PARKER: Yeah, they initially received this phone call. I don't know for sure when this phone call came in. It was a few days before the raid. Then they went in on the evening of April 3rd. They asked to be - for the opportunity to interview a girl named Sarah. Sarah Jessup Barlow, I think, was her name. They were told there was nobody on the ranch by that name.

They nevertheless insisted on coming in. They interviewed children late into the night. And then they removed some children from the ranch that night. The next day, which, I believe, was a Friday, they continued their work and removed more children. And then, I believe, on the third day, or possibly the fourth day, is when they came in and took all the children.

NEARY: So, Mr. Parker, I would think you would argue that the timeframe was not long enough, that there was not a long enough investigation into that initial charge.

Mr. PARKER: Well, more - I think, more importantly, that when they get a - when CPS gets a telephone call that a person in a family is at risk, they go in and they investigate the family. In this case, they did something different. They went in and they investigated the entire community...

NEARY: I see.

Mr. PARKER: And then they removed not just children from the family, because they didn't - that person doesn't exist. But they removed every child, from every family in the community. And to this day, the parents are still saying, when do we get a chance to be heard individually?

NEARY: Right. OK. If you would just stay with us, Mr. Parker. We're going to continue our discussion when we return. Also Howard Berkes is going to stay with us. We're talking about the FLDS children who were taken from a polygamous compound in west Texas. They're in foster care now. We're taking your questions at 800-989-8255. I'm Lynn Neary. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington, sitting in today for Neal Conan. We're talking about one of the largest child-custody cases in U.S. history. More than 460 children were taken from the Yearning for Zion Ranch, an FLDS polygamist compound in West Texas. Their parents are waging a custody battle to get them back in the Texas courts.

Coming up, we'll talk to the head of a children's shelter where some of the FLDS children are staying. If you have questions about what might happen to both the parents and the children in this case, give us a call at 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can also read what other listeners are - have to say at our blog. That's npr.org/blogofthenation.

We've been talking with NPR's Howard Berkes, and Rodney Parker, who's an attorney based in Salt Lake City, Utah. And he's a spokesman for the families whose children are in state custody. Mr. Parker, if you'll stay with us, in case we get some phone calls directed towards you.

And joining us now is John Sampson. He's a professor of law at the University of Texas at Austin Law School, and an expert on Texas family law, and he joins us from member station KUT in Austin. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Sampson.

Professor JOHN J. SAMPSON (Family Law and the Children's Rights Clinic, University of Texas at Austin School of Law): You're very welcome.

NEARY: Now, I assume that you would argue that the Child Protective Services in Texas did, in fact, act in accordance with Texas law. Is that right?

Professor SAMPSON: Well, they did, but it's not my place to do that, in a way, in that it's already been to the person who decides whether the action of the department was warranted, and that is the judge. The - Texas law really does concentrate on rights of parents. Although this is, of course, totally different than the normal case.

And the parents are entitled to have their children unless CPS investigates and determines that there's abuse. Particularly, we take a dim view of sexual abuse in this state. We don't have statutory rape anymore. It's called either sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault. So, the first thing that has to happen is either the judge will pre-approve - this is on the civil side, not getting into the criminal side - will pre-approve CPS going out.

Or CPS will make an investigation, and then within the first working day, and no later than the third working day, will seek the judge's approval of their initial action. But within 14 days - that is a very short time in the law - there has to be a full adversary hearing. In the usual case, of course, it's a single family, or maybe two families that are living together. We don't...

NEARY: Well, let me ask you about that, because that's a big question here. Mr. Parker raised it in his comments. And that is, instead of taking these on an individual basis, seeing whether there was any abuse or neglect in individual families living on the ranch, everybody got pulled in, somehow, and that seems to be part of what is at question here, and what people are concerned about here, if they feel that the state did overstep its bounds.

Professor SAMPSON: Let's see now. The complaint is that the state failed to do the impossible. You've got 400 - it turned out 462 children ultimately - although it was 416 at first. The other 45, and why the count was off, perhaps, is explained by some young women who claimed to be older, then came forward later and then said that they were - gave a different age.

But in any event, you've got this army of children, this army of parents, and the identities of the families is - at this stage, still remains unknown. I mean, there are 14 women with the last name "Jessup." I don't know how many children have that last name. And exactly who the father is, or fathers are? And which children, each one of the women named Jessup is the mother of?

Or if there are some people who are caretaking the children, even though they're not biologically related to the child? All of those things are unknown. This is a - this undoubtedly is unique, and when you have a unique situation, you're going to have a difficulty with it until you can innovate, to make sense out of it all.

NEARY: Right.

Professor SAMPSON: And so far, CPS and the lawyers for the children and the lawyers for the parents have not been able to make sense out of it because there's too many people involved in order to just say, well, we'll have individualized hearings in a small, west-Texas town.

NEARY: Yeah. Well, while we still...

BERKES: May I...

NEARY: Yes, go ahead.

BERKES: Can I jump in here for a second?

NEARY: Yes.

BERKES: This is Howard Berkes. I just - one thing I just wanted to add is that the distinction here is - what Texas authorities have implied is systematic or systemic abuse that is part of the belief system. That's part of what they believe they uncovered when they went in there and started talking to people.

They got a sense that there was something systemic going on that, essentially, put all the children at risk, even the male children. They were at risk of becoming abusers at an older age. That's essentially what they've argued, and why there was a - why there may be a different standard than that which would apply to a single family.

NEARY: All right. Howard, while we still have you with us, and Rodney Parker, I want to take another call. We're going to go to Lucy. She's calling from San Francisco. Hi, Lucy.

LUCY (Caller): Hi, hi there. Thanks for talking to me. I'm an investigator for Child Protective Services here in California. Our standard is that when we have an emergency like that, we have two hours to get out - In my county we have two hours to get out and respond to that, in person to the child, and then within 24 hours, to make some kind of assessment.

Generally, if it's an individual family, if I have, say, the non-offending parent, mom, who is believing that her daughter, say, has been sexually molested or abused by a man, and if she can either get that man out of the house, or insure that we can - believe that she'll keep that man away while we do further investigations.

Then we're likely to leave that child with that parent. In this case, where there's 400 plus children, and lots of questions about who the fathers and mothers are, that's just simply isn't feasible. It is a travesty that these kids are in foster care. I believe that that will probably scar these kids for life, and the families.

And it is a double-edged sword. And I'm just appalled at this whole situation. However, that systemic-abuse question is uppermost in the minds of everybody who's working on this, and there's no other way to deal with this then as a group, I believe.

NEARY: All right. Then I'd like to hear Rodney Parker address that issue of - the fact that what we're talking about here is the potential, and perhaps the reality, of systemic abuse. And can you just address that issue for us, Mr. Parker?

Mr. PARKER: Yeah, I'd...

NEARY: And again, Mr. Parker represents many of the families involved.

Mr. PARKER: I'd be happy to address that. I think that, first of all, what you're really talking about when CPS says "systemic abuse," what they're really talking about is their belief system. And there's no way that CPS observed evidence in the three days they were on the ranch that would suggest that every child in that community was at risk.

For example, they took into custody a five-year-old child with Down syndrome. Now, that child's not a risk of becoming a perpetrator in the next 60 days, which is when this case has to be resolved, or in the next ten years, for that matter.

And so what CPS has done is take every child away from every parent in the community. They've essentially said let's - we'll just arrest everybody, and then ask questions later. I think our society has kind of come to that, in some ways, but it's just simply inappropriate.

NEARY: On the other hand, an issue which has been raised by Mr. Sampson, which, I think, anybody who watched or heard it on the news understood how very confusing it was in the courtroom the first time that the families appeared in the court. People don't know who these children even really belong to, or which family is which...

Mr. PARKER: Well...

NEARY: So how do you respond to that?

Mr. PARKER: Yeah, that simply isn't true. The parents know who their children are. The children know who their parents are. Now, the problem here is the CPS has herded them all into this setting. And now CPS is having a problem sorting that out. That doesn't mean that the people involved didn't know who belonged to who or don't know who belongs to who.

They do know that. What we have now is a situation is where CPS is losing children. They've misplaced some of the children. They're just in this complete state of chaos. These children and these parents would have been much better off if they had been left together while this was sorted out. The claim that they've been obstructed in determining identities is simply not true.

NEARY: Well, what happens now, Mr. Parker?

Mr. PARKER: I think they've obstructed themselves.

NEARY: What happens now in this case, in your perspective?

Mr. PARKER: Well, the next step, under Texas law, as I understand it, is that within 60 days of the initial raid - so we've got about five weeks left of that timeframe at this point - they have to have a final hearing, a trial...

Professor SAMPSON: I'm afraid - I'm afraid that's not true at all. You're...

Mr. PARKER: OK.

Professor SAMPSON: Yes, you're...

Mr. PARKER: Am I wrong about that?

Professor SAMPSON: Yes, you sure are.

Mr. PARKER: OK. Then - well, then, in any event, at some point in the process, the parents are entitled to be heard, and every family and every child needs to be considered individually in a court case. This is a temporary arrangement that CPS has got us in, while that process plays itself out. And of course, my point, again, is that during that temporary setting, most of these children aren't even arguably at risk.

Even if you accept all of the allegations as true, no infants are going to be groomed in the timeframe that we're talking about. No - no, you know, young children are going to be harmed by being left with their mothers. They are being horribly harmed in the process that they're being subjected to here.

NEARY: All right. Mr. Parker, thanks so much for joining us today.

Mr. PARKER: You're welcome.

NEARY: Rodney Parker is an attorney based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and he's a spokesman for the families whose children are in state custody. He joined us from member station KCPW in Salt Lake City, Utah. Mr. Sampson, what is the next step, then? How do we proceed legally in this case?

Professor SAMPSON: The next step is the 60-day hearing, which is to review the plans for CPS to rehabilitate the family. That's supposedly the goal. The families, of course, are still unknown. As far as I can tell, the identity of children to the parents, and to the fathers, as well as the mothers, has yet to be made, so that they have this crowd of children, and within that 60-day period, CPS has to make plans for the children and how they might be reunited.

After that, the next hearing, after that, is six months, then ten months. So you see, there's mandatory hearings to protect both the children and the parents' rights to a far greater degree than in a normal civil case. The final hearing must come within one year, unless there is a one-time-and-one-time-only extension of up to six months.

So that the system - when the judge originally determines, at the full adversary hearing, that there's reason for the state to continue with custody, there will be - after the 14-day hearing, there will be a 60, 100 - at six months and then at ten months, so that the judge is intimately involved in the progress towards reuniting the children or terminating parental rights, or perhaps, in some but rare cases, not terminating parental rights...

NEARY: All right.

Professor SAMPSON: And not restoring the children to the parents. But most of the cases, the children go back to relatives.

NEARY: All right. Well, we want to get some calls in here. We're talking with John Sampson. He's a professor of law at the University of Texas at Austin Law School, and you are listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. We're going to take a call now. We're going to go to Ken, and Ken is calling from Stockton, California. Hi, Ken, go ahead.

KEN (Caller): Hi. I'd like to go back to just the very beginning, because I'm interested in the state's - what is the compelling interest for the state against polygamy?

NEARY: Mr. Sampson?

Professor SAMPSON: Well, this is not a case about polygamy. They - if FLSD wanted to - well, FDL - let me try that again.

NEARY: FLDS.

Professor SAMPSON: LSD - Latter-Day Saints, the fundamentalists, if they lived there without the alleged sexual abuse and aggravated-sexual assault, they'd still be there, without the controversy.

The problem is, of course, is that the state has alleged that there is widespread sexual abuse in accordance with the theology that the fundamentalists advocate. And our law is very clear that you may not have sex with a child under 17, and a child under 16 is aggravated - an aggravated offense.

NEARY: And let me turn to Howard Berkes. I wonder, Howard, if you can talk to us a little bit about this, because you have covered FLDS, not in Texas - I mean, you haven't covered this specific case, but you've been covering - you've been reporting on this group for a long time, and on the issue and the questions of polygamy. So maybe you can address that question for us.

BERKES: Well, the truth is that prosecuting polygamy in and of itself is very difficult and has been difficult since that raid in 1953 that I mentioned earlier. It's hard to get anyone to testify. The women don't testify against their husbands, for example. It's hard to prove that these multiple marriages exist, because they're not all, quote, unquote, "legal marriages," in which you have a paper trail, necessarily.

I also want to say, to Professor Sampson's point about this not being about polygamy, it's about child sexual abuse. That is, in fact - that has, in fact, been what the legal cases that have been brought in Utah and Arizona have been all about.

It's about sexual abuse, and in fact, Warren Jeffs, the president and prophet of the FLDS faith, was convicted in Utah for facilitating a marriage involving a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old first cousin, an arranged marriage, a marriage that she resisted. There are many former members of the FLDS faith who have come forward and said that these arranged marriages do exist between underage girls and men sometimes years, sometimes decades, older.

And that's the compelling interest of the state that triggered the initial raid in Texas. There was one phone call. But when authorities got there, they say they discovered this more systemic-belief system that involves these underage girls. And that's what the state reacted to there. That's what state officials have reacted to in Arizona and Utah when they filed cases.

NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for joining us, NPR's Howard Berkes. Also joining us was John Sampson. He's a professor of law at the University of Texas at Austin Law School, and an expert on Texas family law. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Sampson.

Professor SAMPSON: Thank you for having me.

NEARY: And when we come back, we're going to be talking with Jack Downey. He's president and CEO of The Children's Shelter, That's a nonprofit company in San Antonio, Texas, and they are caring for 22 children from the FLDS compound. I'm Lynn Neary, and you're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: Today, we're talking about the children involved in the FLDS custody case in west Texas. My guest is Jack Downey. He's president and CEO of The Children's Shelter, a nonprofit company in San Antonio which is caring for 22 children from the FLDS compound. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Downey.

Mr. JACK DOWNEY (Chief Executive Officer, The Children's Shelter): My pleasure, Lynn.

NEARY: And when did the children arrive at the shelter? And how many are you caring for?

Mr. DOWNEY: The children arrived last week and we are caring for 22. The oldest is six years old, and they go down to infants.

NEARY: Down to infants. How are they doing? Can you give us a sense of what shape they're in?

Mr. DOWNEY: I think it's fair to say the children arrived very tired, disheveled, frightened. I saw them this morning. They were in our art therapy studio. It's a bright, glass-enclosed facility, and they were all playing with clay and coloring. One little girl was pressing her face up against the glass and making faces, and they were being children.

NEARY: What about...

Mr. DOWNEY: So I think they're beginning to acclimate a bit.

NEARY: What about the babies, the really - the infants? I know there are - we've heard reports of mothers who were concerned because they were actually breastfeeding their children.

Mr. DOWNEY: We do not have any that, as far as I know, that were breastfeeding, but the babies are doing fine. We have a wonderful staff that's trained in taking care of infants, and I think everyone's doing fine.

NEARY: Now, I know that you have cared for hundreds of kids over the years in your shelter, but some things are really different about this case, are they not? I mean, these children were brought up in a very specific way and you've had to make some changes to accommodate them. What are they?

Mr. DOWNEY: Well, these children are used to congregate care, but Child Protective Services gave us some information prior to their arrival that allowed us to create as much of the environment that they're used to as possible. For instance, we went through the shelter and took out all the color red, which the children may deem offensive.

We asked our staff not to wear the color red. We reviewed our menus to make sure that we were capable of providing the children with the food that they were used to, and I'm glad to say we were. It's a very healthy diet of whole-grain breads, fresh vegetables and fruit, chicken and fish, yogurt. Our menus were very similar, so that was not an issue for us at all.

NEARY: Why were the children - why this concern about red? What was that about?

Mr. DOWNEY: I believe that's associated with the devil, with evil spirit, however you want to characterize it. We were just forewarned that it may frighten the children. They are not used to seeing the color red, so we just eliminated it as much as possible. It's amazing how much red there is in everything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: These are very young children. Do they seem to understand what's happening to them? Or are they very confused about their situation?

Mr. DOWNEY: We have not done any clinical interventions or questioned them. We are respecting their silence. I put wooden puzzles together with two boys. I believe they were about three and five. We, I think, put six puzzles together numerous times, and neither one spoke. And I respected that.

I think we have to give them room and let them come to us when they're prepared. And I think that they're getting prepared to come to us, because they're certainly beginning to act like children. And they've been outside on the playground. They're doing art things. They're eating very well. So I think, given time, we'll start having conversations.

NEARY,: We are talking with Jack Downey. He's president and CEO of The Children's Shelter in San Antonio, Texas. They are caring for 22 of the children from the FLDS compound. If you have any questions for him about the children and how they're being cared for, give us a call. The number is 800-989-8255. Are these kids asking for their parents? And if so, what do you tell them?

Mr. DOWNEY: No, they are not asking for their parents, and we, of course, have not mentioned anything about their situation. We've removed the TVs from the areas where the children are, and the staff is instructed not to speak about the issue with the children. That's not why we're here. We're here to care for the children and to make them as comfortable and create as serene environment for them as we can.

NEARY: OK, I guess I just, you know - knowing young children, they do tend to ask for their parents. I mean, if they did ask, I would think there would be some response you would give to them. It wouldn't be a subject you would ignore, would it be?

Mr. DOWNEY: No, not at all. If a child asks us about their parents, we would simply respond that their parents were - knew where they were, and we would hope they enjoy their stay with us, and we would redirect them to another conversation.

NEARY: Yeah. How do you get the kids to open up? Or do you try and get them to open up to, sort of, release some of the feelings they must be having? If they are confused, I mean, is there a way to get them to deal with some of the issues that have to be coming up inside them?

Mr. DOWNEY: Well, as you indicated before, we've cared for thousands of children who have been removed from their homes because of sexual or physical abuse. I would characterize each child as they arrive as a "closed flower."

And as they learn that they are safe and that we are there to help them and that we are going to care for them, they begin to open up, and they begin to eat. They get color in their cheeks, and they gain weight, and they trust. And they become children again, and they laugh and they play. And I think these children are going to go through the same metamorphosis.

NEARY: How many kids are in the shelter right now, besides these children? I imagine there are other kids there as well.

Mr. DOWNEY: There are 30 additional children.

NEARY: And are they all...

Mr. DOWNEY: We're licensed by the State of Texas for 52 children.

NEARY: And are they all interacting, or...?

Mr. DOWNEY: No. We're keeping the FLDS children separate right now. I think they've got enough on them that they don't need the pressure of queries about their dress, or where they came from or anything else.

NEARY: Right. We're going to take a call now from Sue. She's calling us from Kansas City. Hi, Sue.

SUE (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call. I wanted to correct your guest there just a little bit. The color red in the Mormon tradition, all the other sects, is not really indicated as a sign of Satan.

It's reserved for Jesus Christ, when he's suppose to come back through the clouds wearing a red robe. They don't wear red and don't have red in their surrounding as a sign of respect. So I just thought I would let you know that.

NEARY: Thanks for that, Sue, and...

Mr. DOWNEY: Thank you.

SUE: And thanks for taking care of all those kids. They need it.

NEARY: Ok, thanks so much.

SUE: Thank you.

NEARY: That's interesting. That was - I guess you learned something about why the children might not want to see the color red, Mr. Downey.

Mr. DOWNEY: Yes, I did. I appreciate that very much.

NEARY: I'm just curious. When this whole - when this first came up, that you were going to be getting a group of these children, did you have to prepare in any special way beyond that kind of - you've mentioned you sort of had not to wear the color red, but did you have special concerns with this particular group of kids coming in?

Mr. DOWNEY: Well, most of the children that come to us come from a pretty anxious environment, but we felt that these children are going to be coming from a very high-anxiety environment. So we talked about how best to care for them. We reviewed Dr. Bruce Perry's book, "The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog."

In that book, he talks about his experiences as the senior psychiatrist with the Branch Davidian children who were released in Waco before the conflagration took place. There were 30 of those children. And his book was very instructive, I think, with how to work with children who had been in a sect and are now coming out into a world that they just simply have not seen. So we reviewed that with our senior staff and eventually the entire staff...

NEARY: And what are some of the suggestions? What are some of the suggestions in that book about dealing with kids who are coming out of a sect like this? I mean...

Mr. DOWNEY: One is to give them time. Let them adjust. Let them come to you. The other is, don't introduce a lot of people to them. We've been receiving a lot of calls from counselors and therapists who want to come help us, and we appreciate that. But we've declined that, because Dr. Perry recommended that we not introduce numerous people to these children upon their arrival into almost an alien world.

The other thing is food. Try and feed them what they are used to. As much as you can, recreate their environment for them, so that they are comfortable, while realizing that at the same time that there is a different environment around them.

And we are doing all that. We've been very patient and supportive of them. And so far, the children are acting wonderfully, and are very quiet, but are very comfortable with each other and, I think, take strength from the fact that other children are there.

NEARY: Let's take a call now. We're going to go to Wendy and she's calling from Manchester, Massachusetts. Hi, Wendy.

WENDY (Caller): Hi.

NEARY: Go ahead.

WENDY: I wanted to know if you know enough about their cult, the sect, to know why they're inculturated (ph) not to speak to an adult unless spoken to. I mean, is it possible that their silence and the passivity of your approach of not - of waiting for them to come to you, is sort of not going to succeed, because in their culture, they're not meant to talk to adults, unless the adults specifically asks them something?

Mr. DOWNEY: We - I may have overstated our passive approach. We are certainly talking with the children in terms of going to dinner and changing clothes and getting ready for bed, and almost benign conversations.

We are not talking to them about their situation or doing any clinical interventions, or asking them direct questions pertaining to their experiences or anything like that. And that's what I meant, that we are going to wait for the children to start talking to us about those issues, rather than us forcing the issue on them.

NEARY: And are they open to talk to adults? I mean, do they interact pretty easily with adults or not?

Mr. DOWNEY: Ah, some have and some haven't. We have a wonderful vice president who is right in the midst - amongst the girls, and within about ten minutes, was combing one of the girls' hair and showing her how to put barrettes in her hair, and...

WENDY: (Unintelligible) had a little bit of a trauma herself. When I was little, it never occurred to me that we were allowed to talk about the really difficult situation, and so all the conversation did stay on a very superficial level, and - because there wasn't a sense that there was permission to talk about the very hard things that just happened.

NEARY: And so you kept it inside, is that what you're saying, as a child?

WENDY: And then you know, and then you turn 40 and you realize you need therapy, and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

WENDY: So it got into a (unintelligible), but I just - you know, I'm hearing the possibility of that sort of thing happening with these children.

NEARY: Well, let me ask you...

Mr. DOWNEY: Well, I think you have to appreciate that these children have only been to foster care for like three or four days.

WENDY: Yeah.

Mr. DOWNEY: I think that's a little precipitous to start those conversations that quickly.

NEARY: All right.

WENDY: OK.

NEARY: Does that answer your question, Wendy?

WENDY: I just didn't know whether there was a plan, you know, at some point to start giving them permission to talk about more serious things, or whether the modus operandi was just going to be, no, they'll come to us when they're ready. I thought there might be a flaw in that.

NEARY: All right. Well, let's discuss that...

Mr. DOWNEY: I agree with you.

NEARY: We'll discuss that a little bit more. Thank you very much for making that point, Wendy. I appreciate it. And I just want to remind our audience that you are listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

Jack Downey, I wanted to ask you - you mentioned earlier, and maybe you can explain a little bit more, that you do art therapy with these kids. And I mean, is that a way to get them - how do you use that to get them to open up a bit?

Mr. DOWNEY: We have a wonderful master's-level registered art therapist, which is like a licensed art therapist. She's been with us ten years, in excess of ten years, and you're exactly correct. We use art therapy to glean from the children things that they're not prepared to speak about or don't want to speak about.

For instance, boys will rarely discuss sexual abuse with you, but they'll do artwork each time that kind of indicates what took place. We're also looking for developmental delays, constantly, in the artwork and our art therapist is wonderful with the children. She had them all in there this morning and they were having a great time. And...

NEARY: All right. Let's take another call. We're going to go to Kristen and Kristen is calling from Golden, Colorado. Go ahead, Kristen.

KRISTEN (Caller): Hi. I love your program. My question is, as a teacher - I was a teacher for 10 years, and I was wondering if your guest could tell us anything about, maybe, the kids - are they on grade level? I know he's got young kids, but you know, kids as young as six can be reading. Does he have any information on that?

Mr. DOWNEY: The children love to be read to. Some of the children can read and we're - we engage in reading constantly at The Children's Shelter. We believe in it. We think it's the bedrock of academic excellence.

KRISTEN: And...

Mr. DOWNEY: So we will be doing a lot of that. We have a large library, and when children leave us, we ask them to take two books with them to hopefully continue the reading habit. We will do the same thing with these children. And we do not know their grade levels or any of their schooling history yet. The state is still providing us information as they become aware of it. And they will...

NEARY: Well, how long are they supposed to stay with you, these children? I mean, this just temporary?

Mr. DOWNEY: Well, we - yeah. We are an emergency shelter, so this it's temporary care. But we have an on-campus school that was one of the high-performing schools on the state TAKS test. So we have great teachers and all. But we anticipate that we will just take it very easily with these children, in terms of educational...

NEARY: Thanks for your call, Kristen.

KRISTEN: Thank you.

NEARY: We're going to move another call. Let's go to - I believe it's Jenay (ph) is calling from Oklahoma. Hi, Jenay.

JENAY (Caller): Hello. I was wondering if - I'm very sympathetic, I think, to the mothers in this situation, especially of the young children, and I feel like probably in many instances they you know, they've been indoctrinated with this all theology and maybe don't know any better, and are they allowed at all to see their children? And are there siblings in your group?

Mr. DOWNEY: As far as we know, there are numerous siblings in our group, and we have not received any instructions from the state about parental visits or conversations, telephone conversations. We are seeking that information right now, even as I'm speaking to you, and we will abide by whatever the state instructs us to do.

JENAY: Thank you. I appreciate your help.

NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for your call. And so the next step for these children, then - what is the next step for these children? They go into a foster family, while they're cases are pending? I mean, what happens? How long do they stay with you?

Mr. DOWNEY: Well, that - I think that's going to be the subject of the June hearing that the judge has scheduled, and these decisions made - will be made to move the children further into the system and foster - independent foster-family care.

A lot of children have gone into kinship care, but in this case, I don't believe the state will place them back with relatives. So I would see them go into residential care or individual foster-family care.

NEARY: And how long do you expect they'll be with you?

Mr. DOWNEY: I'm not sure I can answer that.

NEARY: You don't...

Mr. DOWNEY: Each case is determined individually, and in this specific incident, it's pretty chaotic.

NEARY: Hm. And - so just in general, these children, as we've said, have certain special needs, but generally speaking, you would say the way you're dealing with them is the way you would deal with any children who come into your custody, and most of them come in in a crisis situation.

Mr. DOWNEY: Absolutely. But you know, if a child makes an outcry or exhibits some behavior that makes us think we need to take action, we do so immediately. We have on-campus psychiatrists, psychologists, medical center, dental center. We can handle most of the concerns of the children, and we're prepared to do so and will act immediately, if warranted.

NEARY: Well, Mr. Downey, thanks for being with us today.

Mr. DOWNEY: My pleasure. Thank you.

NEARY: Jack Downey is president and CEO of The Children's Shelter, where 22 children from the FLDS compound are being cared for. He spoke to us from the studios of Texas Public Radio in San Antonio. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.

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