SAN ANGELO, Texas (CNN) — All of the more than 460 children and youths removed from a polygamist sect’s ranch this month are now in foster homes, a Texas Child Protection Services representative said Friday.
“This is a very good day for the children from the ranch,” Darrell Azar said.
The last 260 children and youths were bused from the San Angelo Coliseum on Friday. Although some were still in transit Friday afternoon, he said, they would be in foster homes — most of them boys and girls ranches — by Friday night.
On Thursday, 63 children were moved out of the coliseum and into foster care, Azar said, and 64 adult women were also moved out. Seventeen of those women were allowed to stay in a shelter with their infant children, he said, but another 47 women were separated from their children. Of those, seven women chose to return to the YFZ Ranch, and another 40 opted to go to “a separate location.”
Azar emphasized that the women were not coerced to make the decision and said it will not affect whether their children could be returned, which will be decided by a court.
“Separating women from children is always a difficult thing,” Azar said. “There were tears by the children, by the women and by some of our caseworkers as well. It’s not easy to do, and no one was untouched.”
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But, he said, the separation was “the only alternative at this time” to ensure that the children remain safe and protected.
Among those moved to foster care Thursday were 25 girls believed to be minors, all of them with children, who previously claimed to be older than 18, Azar said.
The children were removed after allegations of sexual abuse at the ranch. A caller told a Texas crisis center she was a 16-year-old forced to marry a 50-year-old man who physically and sexually abused her.
Although authorities have said they have not located the caller, child welfare workers found a pattern of young girls forced into underage marriages with older men, Azar said.
The Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns the ranch, is a Mormon offshoot that practices polygamy. FLDS members have denied that any abuse takes place.
In a motion filed Thursday, attorneys for FLDS members challenged search warrants used in the raid, alleging that Texas police knew in advance the abuse reports were questionable. The motion contends that authorities knew the calls were made from telephones “registered to telephone numbers outside the state of Texas.”
After a custody hearing, a judge ruled last week that the children will remain in state custody for now.
On Tuesday, Texas’ 3rd Court of Appeals will hear arguments on a motion from FLDS families to require a lower court to hold individualized hearings for each child and family.