Six of Heidi Mattingly Foster‘s children will be home tonight, a judge has ruled.
Third District Juvenile Judge Elizabeth Lindsley’s Tuesday ruling reunites Mattingly Foster with her children by polygamist John Daniel Kingston after an 18-month child welfare case. The six children, ages 3 to 13, have been in foster care since October. Three other children live with their mother and two have declared they do not wish to return home.
“The children will be returned to their mother this evening,” Lindsley said, as Mattingly Foster’s mother wept openly.
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“I am so looking forward to being able to go to sleep and know they are in their beds and they are safe,” Mattingly Foster said after the hearing.
The courtroom was packed with Mattingly Foster’s supporters, family members and her therapist, as well as state attorneys and the guardian ad litem, who have argued that the children and their mother had been subjected to abuse by their father, and that their mother failed to protect the children.
“There has been a lot of emphasis on getting Heidi Mattingly Foster to say in court she is a victim of domestic violence and has abused her children,” Lindsley said. “While she doesn’t use those words, she has acknowledged her part in getting her children placed in custody.”
The judge found, however, that Mattingly Foster had substantially complied with the orders of the court, and that her therapist had testified she has learned many new skills and made actual changes to make herself a better parent.
Kingston remains under court orders barring him from having contact with the children and Mattingly Foster. Lindsley told Mattingly Foster that Division of Child and Family Services caseworkers must be able to contact her at any time and to make unannounced visits to her home.
Lindsley also said she did not want to hear from DCFS that things weren’t going “perfectly.”
“There isn’t a perfect family out there. My family isn’t perfect. There isn’t a perfect family in this courtroom,” she said.
Guardian ad Litem Kristin Brewer, who has backed a state motion to terminate the couple’s parental rights, asked the judge to hold off on sending the children home while she pursued an appeal. Lindsley refused. The case began in February 2004 after the two oldest daughters got their ears pierced without their parent’s permission and in violation of a family prohibition on body piercing. The family is part of the secretive, polygamist Kingston clan, which oversees multimillion-dollar business operations throughout Utah and which is accused by critics of such things as marrying under-age girls to older men.
Those girls were initially placed in the protective custody of an uncle and his then-girlfriend, as the case began unfolding in court. Third District Juvenile Judge Andrew Valdez found, based on girls’ testimony about living conditions and physical discipline, that Kingston had abused and neglected his children and Mattingly Foster failed to protect them.
Months later, again relying on the younger girl’s testimony, Valdez found that Mattingly Foster herself had been physically abusive toward her children. By then, he had already separated her from the children and also ordered that she have no contact with her her family and church.
But the judge held out hope that Mattingly Foster, with the right intervention, might be molded into a better woman who was able to look after her children’s needs and her own. He rejected the state’s position that reunification of the family should be stopped, and order the state to provide more therapy and parenting help for Mattingly Foster. He also approved a plan that separated Mattingly Foster from her family, friends and church; she complied.
In April, persuaded that the the 33-year-old mother had made progress toward that end, Valdez ordered that the children gradually be returned home to her and set a review hearing for June 28.
The state balked at the order. And in late June, the attorney general’s office called into question Valdez’ impartiality given charges pending against his son for scuffling with Kingston supporters at the courthouse. He stepped down, as did the next judge, who had previously prosecuted Kingston’s brother.
Lindsley then took over the case and in mid-July listened as state attorneys argued that Mattingly Foster had yet to denounce Kingston or admit her own shortcomings as a parent. Given that, Asst. Attorney General Carolyn Nichols said, “the children aren’t safe with her.”
In court, Mattingly Foster stopped short of admitting specific incidents of physical abuse but said there were events in the past she regretted and that she expected to be a better parent in the future. Her attorney, Gary Bell, argued she deserved a chance to prove herself.