State faces new headache over immunizing sect children

A state requirement that children in foster care be inoculated against disease has prompted another round of headaches for lawyers who represent 464 children taken from a polygamist ranch last month.

Most children are immunized against diseases including chicken pox, polio, measles and smallpox before they start school.

But many, if not most of the children of the Yearning For Zion ranch, owned and operated by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, have not been immunized. All are homeschooled on the 1,700-acre ranch north of Eldorado. As Texas Child Protective Services investigates allegations of sex abuse on the ranch, the FLDS children have been placed in foster homes, who by law, must take care of each child’s medical needs.

And that includes immunization.

“They want to inoculate the children and the parents have contacted the attorneys and said ‘What do we do?'” said Polly O’Toole, a Dallas family law attorney from who represents one of the children.

Some parents worry that even if they don’t want their children immunized, they will appear uncooperative with the state and risk losing their child forever.

“That’s a really hard question,” O’Toole said about parents who want to refuse. “If you refuse to allow your child to be inoculated, are you — the mother — going to be branded by CPS as non-cooperative? Are you going to be considered as not having the best interests of your child?”

Susan Hays, who represents a 2-year-old child, said parents are upset that they are not able to be there with their children or offer documentation that they have been immunized.

“They would like an opportunity to get records from Utah and there’s not a line of communication to do that yet,” Hays said.

The immunization issue surfaced shortly before CPS sent an e-mail Wednesday to foster care providers who now house the 464 children in facilities across the state.

“Attached are guidelines prepared by the Department of State Health Services concerning immunization of children from FLDS,” wrote Heather Shiels, the state’s manager of residential foster care contracts. “The children should be immunized according to the Department of State Health Services harmonized schedule approved by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Please review the schedule, share with foster parents and child care staff and follow the guidelines accordingly.”

No child will be forcibly immunized, insisted Patrick Crimmins, a CPS spokesman.

“If a child refuses to be immunized, we’re not forcing any children to be,” he said.

But he emphasized that for the safety of the children, who are now unprotected against serious diseases, they do need to be inoculated.

Crimmins said he has heard no reports of anyone objecting to being immunized.

David Miller, executive director of Hendrick Home, said there have been no problems at his Shackelford County facility, one of about 16 across the state caring for the children. Immunization appointments for the children from Eldorado in his care have been made and no one has objected.

“It’s just not an issue,” he said.

But calls are being made by older children to their parents at the ranch and one state source familiar with the issue, but not authorized to discuss the matter, confirmed that some older children are refusing shots.

So far, nothing has been easy when it comes to caring for the children from the West Texas ranch.

CPS officials arrived at the ranch on April 3 after they received word from a San Angelo women’s shelter that a caller claiming to be a 16-year-old wife of a 50-year-old man said she was physically and sexually abused.

While the call has since been traced to a phone belonging to a Colorado Springs, Colo. woman with a history of making false reports with police about being an abused child, CPS investigators insist what they found at the ranch, including a number of underage pregnant girls, led them to believe all of of the children were at risk of being abused.

State then began taking children off of the ranch, eventually moving all 463 into San Angelo until foster care homes could be found. They will remain in care until a judge rules whether they can be returned to the ranch, to relatives or perhaps, be placed up for adoption.

The immunization issue is just one of many issues that seem to crop up nearly daily in representing this unique set of children. CPS had to issue two memos to foster care operators about how to care for them. The FLDS children do not watch TV, shun the color red, and do not eat processed food. When the children were first taken by CPS, volunteers were shocked to learn that most had never seen a crayon before and could not open a juice box.

Complicating the care is the children’s sheer number and the fact that in many child abuse cases that require children be removed, drug or alcohol addiction is involved.

“What creates a lot of conflict here is that these parents do care and that’s not typical in a CPS removal case,” Hays said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday May 9, 2008.
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