STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is the day that a court considers the fate of more than 460 children from a polygamist ranch in west Texas. Texas Child Protective Services is required by law to present to a judge its plan for each child. Lawyers for the mothers have focused on that provision of the law. They say the state's plans are not tailored to individuals, and the family's legal rights are being violated.
NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports from San Angelo, Texas.
WADE GOODWYN: Taking away someone's children is one of the most devastating and intrusive actions the state can take. In Texas, the law requires child welfare officials to demonstrate that they had good reason to act. State Judge Barbara Walther was convinced of that in the 14-day hearing. That's when Texas alleged it had seized numerous underage teenage girls who were pregnant or had already given birth, some multiple times.
In today's hearing, at the 60-day mark, the state must show it has an individual service plan for each child. More important, the state has to lay out what the parents must do specifically if they want their child back.
Ms. MARY WALKER (Child Protective Service, Texas): It's a huge case, as you might imagine, and a lot of individual cases within. It's taking time. It's taking time. This is new for us. It's new for them.
GOODWYN: Mary Walker is with Texas's Child Protective Services. In normal circumstances, the state would size up the cause of the parental abuse with prompted it seize the children. Child welfare officials would come up with a list the parents needed to do if they wanted their children back - for example, stop using methamphetamine, get a job and an apartment where your family can live. That sort of thing.
But with more than 100 FLDS children not yet matched to mothers and fathers and DNA test results not expected for several weeks, Texas has no idea yet what to tell each family at the 60-day hearing. So instead, it created a single service plan, a template for all the children.
Ms. WALKER: We have one year to reunify these children with their parents. It's a process, and we will ask them to do a number of things - exactly what those are at this point, I simply have the template. I don't know the individual needs of these children, and I don't know exactly what it is at this point that we're asking each and every parent to do.
GOODWYN: The state isn't completely sure yet that all the children they've seized actually are children. That's because there's been resistance by some FLDS mothers and fathers to the state's investigation.
The state's template provides only the barest and most general guidance to the parents. For example, it says they must demonstrate an understanding of, quote, "the dynamics of child abuse." But as to what specifically a particular FLDS mother or father must do in order to satisfy the state and get their children back, there's nothing like that. And that has the lawyers who represent the mothers frustrated and angry.
Julie Balovich of Texas Rural Legal Aid represents seven FLDS mothers.
Ms. JULIE BALOVICH (Texas Rural Legal Aid): Well, I think that they have not bothered to do any individual assessments. They don't have any evidence against specific parents. They're just trying to ram the same allegations and same plan down everyone's throat.
GOODWYN: All five courtrooms in the San Angelo courthouse will be used in an attempt to avoid the bedlam of the first custody hearing a month ago. How Judge Barbara Walther and the other four judges assigned to the case will react to the state's position that it needs more time remains to be seen. But the state's claim that it has seized numerous underage teens who've been repeatedly abused sexually is likely to weigh heavily.
Nevertheless, advocate Julie Balovich says Texas can blame itself for the legal chaos it has created.
Ms. BALOVICH: Well, I'm sorry it's inconvenient for them, but these are constitutional rights and children's lives at stake. And I don't think they get to use the excuse that we did an ill-conceived massive custody removal, and because of that, we get to get away with not following the family code.
GOODWYN: The stigma of polygamy hangs over the legal action in San Angelo, Texas. Some of the younger FLDS mothers are married to only one man, and these families have stepped forward in the hope that the court might show consideration to their more traditional family unit. And in time, the court might be persuaded. But these hearings will focus solely on the state's service plan for the children. FLDS mothers hoping to have their children back are going to have to wait.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.
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