AUSTIN — Texas child welfare officials say that more than half the teen girls — 31 of the 53 under the age of 18 — swept into state custody from a polygamist sect’s ranch already have children or are pregnant.
While many of the children’s mothers and court-appointed lawyers kept up a barrage of criticism of the state’s removal of 463 children from their families, Child Protective Services officials countered today with the most detailed information to date on how many young girls at the ranch have been pregnant.
“Thirty one of 53 girls between 14 and 17 have children, are pregnant or both,” CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins said.
Asked if the pregnancy rate justified a raid at the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado 3 1/2 weeks ago, Mr. Crimmins recited CPS officials’ testimony at a two-day hearing in San Angelo earlier this month.
“There was a pervasive belief that children having children was what they were supposed to do,” he said.
A call seeking comment from the sect’s Salt Lake City lawyer, Rod Parker, was not immediately returned.
Mr. Crimmins said 26 girls originally told CPS that they were adults but are now thought to be minors. Many have children or are pregnant, he said, though he did not have an exact number. Last week, CPS said at least 20 of the girls removed from the ranch were 16 or younger when they became pregnant.
Under Texas law, children under 17 generally cannot consent to sex with an adult. A girl can get married with parental permission at 16 but none of the sect’s teenage girls are believe to have legal marriages under state law.
The sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, believes in polygamy for men.
Today, CPS revised its count of children in state care to 463, up one from Friday. Mr. Crimmins said he did not know the reason for the change. Of the children, 250 are girls and 213 are boys, he said. He denied reports quoting a Corpus Christi lawyer as saying two of the boys had been lost.
Each of the sect’s youngsters will be assigned a CPS caseworker. State workers drawing the assignment will shed their previous caseloads, and work exclusively with the Eldorado youngsters, Mr. Crimmins said.
Each caseworker will handle no more than 15 of the sect’s children – about one-third of the average caseload of CPS workers assigned to children in state care. In September, each CPS “conservatorship caseworker” juggled an average of 43.5 cases.
Mr. Crimmins said in the next few days, CPS will contact each volunteer lawyer assigned by state District Judge Barbara Walther to represent the children. The lawyers will be given information about their clients’ foster care placement and the status of a “service plan” being prepared for each child.
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