SALT LAKE CITY — Third District Juvenile Court Judge Andrew Valdez ruled Wednesday that it would be safe to begin reuniting the children of a prominent polygamist with their mother.
“I’m really thankful for all of the people who have supported me,” a tearful Mattingly said outside of court.
An order that kept Mattingly from interacting with any members of the polygamist group also was lifted Wednesday. She left court and was immediately engulfed by dozens of family members hugging her and telling her they missed her.
Mattingly’s visits with her children will begin this week. Their will be supervised visits, followed by extended unsupervised visits and therapy in the hopes of having the children living with Mattingly within the next 90 days.
“I’m going to allow you to start seeing your kids again,” Valdez told Mattingly. “The future of these children rests in your arms, your hands and your love.”
Eight of the children were taken into state custody Oct. 19, when Valdez ruled the couple were being uncooperative in an ongoing investigation into whether they were abusing or neglecting their children. Two other girls were removed from the home February 2004.
Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Nichols who argued for the state that Mattingly had taxed the state’s family help resources for years and continued to refuse to acknowledge her role in the children’s’ abuse and neglect was skeptical about the future.
“Will she validate the children’s’ concerns in therapy?” Nichols said after the hearing. “At the end of the term will we be right back where we were here today?”
Kingston was at the hearing Wednesday but the judge ordered that he continue to stay away from Mattingly and the children. That order was briefly ignored as Mattingly and Kingston shared a passionate kiss as the courtroom cleared. Kingston also hugged the couples’ oldest daughter, who instigated this round of hearings by fleeing from her father’s office in February 2004 fearful that her and her sister faced reprisals for getting their ears pierced.
That girl, a 16-year-old, thanked the judge saying it had been a difficult but positive experience.
“I think because of the last year I’ve become a stronger person. I have formed my own identity and I want to see the rest of my family do that,” she said.
During the hearing, Valdez heard conflicting testimony from social workers and therapists on whether Mattingly was ready to be trusted with the children.
Robert Butters, a social worker who has been involved in therapy sessions with the children, testified Tuesday that Mattingly has failed to acknowledge that the children suffered abuse and neglect and that she failed to protect them.
Her reluctance to take that first therapeutic step “could be devastating to the kids,” Butters said. “I think there is a substantial risk of detriment. I don’t see how things would change without some acknowledgment.”
Mattingly’s therapist took the stand Wednesday and said that she had seen Mattingly evolve through therapy.
“I see a difference in her attitude … I have seen Heidi develop empathy. That’s important,” said Bonnie Peters.
She went on to agree with Mattingly’s other social worker, Pat Merkely, who testified Tuesday that Mattingly had made the most strides when her therapy was initiated from an understanding that she comes from a closed, polygamist society.
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