The release of hundreds of children removed from a polygamist sect in Texas could begin as early as Monday if an agreement can be reached on how to handle the complicated exchange.
Child protection officials and lawyers for the families worked through the weekend to reach a deal on how and when to reunite the children and their parents after negotiations fell apart Friday in court. No deal had been reached Sunday evening.
“There’s no plan yet,” said Marleigh Meisner of Texas Child Protective Services (CPS). “It’s still being worked out.”
The Texas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that child protection officials did not have sufficient evidence to remove hundreds of children from their homes on suspicion of child abuse. The court affirmed the state had other powers to ensure the children’s safety.
A draft agreement released by CPS attorney Gary Banks early Friday said the parents could get their children back beginning today after showing identification and pledging to take parenting classes and remain in Texas.
State officials had reached the tentative agreement with 38 mothers who have a combined 124 children in custody, and had agreed that the order would be extended to all but a few specific children.
Friday’s last-minute snag was a blow to parents who had thought hundreds of happy reunions were imminent.
“There was an opportunity today for relief in this, and it was not granted,” said Willie Jessop, an elder with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), said Friday.
Texas District Judge Barbara Walther wanted the mothers to sign agreements that will give child protection authorities access to the children. The families’ lawyers said the proposal was too intrusive.
More than 400 children were taken from a 1,700-acre ranch in Eldorado, Texas, on April 3 following an anonymous call reporting child abuse.