AUSTIN — Texas child welfare officials no longer believe that a woman who gave birth in San Marcos last month while in foster care, after being removed from a polygamist sect’s ranch, is a minor.
But they won’t say if another former resident of the ranch, who gave birth on Monday, will be given a chance to leave state custody later this week because she also is an adult, though a lawyer for her husband says state officials have hinted that will happen.
On Tuesday, Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins said decisions about custody of the baby boy born in San Marcos on April 29 are not the agency’s to make.
Mr. Crimmins said it will be up to state District Judge Barbara Walther of San Angelo to decide if the infant boy’s mother, Pamela Jeffs, must stay in foster care in order to be with her son, though she now officially is acknowledged to be an adult.
Judge Walther began a hearing Tuesday on whether the infant should remain in CPS’ care but quickly adjourned the proceedings after a state lawyer conceded Ms. Jeffs is an adult. The hearing has been continued until Friday.
CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins said he did not know Ms. Jeffs’ exact age, but sect records show that she is 18.
“She is free to leave state care because we consider her an adult,” Mr. Crimmins said.
Asked if Ms. Jeffs now faces a hard choice between going free and staying with her infant son, Mr. Crimmins said, “Well, that’s going to be up to the judge to decide. … Until the [Friday] hearing, the baby stays in state custody.”
The CPS spokesman said Ms. Jeffs had been among 27 “disputed minors,” females taken into state custody at the ranch on April 4 and April 5 because reliable information on their names, ages and family relationships could not be determined.
CPS has complained that sect members have given confusing information, which has stymied a swift sorting of the more than 450 youngsters removed from an Eldorado ranch run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. State officials say the children were endangered by the sect’s practice of spiritually marrying girls to older men.
Spokesmen for the sect have said CPS wouldn’t release the 27 disputed minors because some of them were pregnant and it feared losing jurisdiction over the newborns if they left the state to give birth.
Mr. Crimmins denied that, saying, “We got the court’s OK to put them into foster care at least temporarily until we could get more information.”
Meanwhile, an infant boy born in Austin on Monday to another former resident of the polygamist ranch spent his first night with his mother on an air mattress, according to her husband’s lawyer.
The woman and her son, who were poised to have to stay overnight in a CPS office, wound up sleeping on the air mattress on the floor of a crowded foster home in Austin, said lawyer Patricia Matassarin of Canyon Lake, who represents sect member Dan Jessop, 24, the baby’s father.
Mr. Crimmins, who confirmed the mother and child stayed in an Austin foster home, did not dispute the lawyer’s account that a bed was not available.
Last week, Mr. Jessop filed a lawsuit asking state District Judge Darlene Byrne of Austin to order his then-pregnant wife and their two children released from state care. A hearing is scheduled Thursday.
In a separate case, a judge in San Antonio on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order barring CPS from removing another polygamist sect member, Lori Jessop, from her son when he turns 1 year old on Thursday. Eighteen adult women with children younger than 12 months have been allowed to stay with them, but those children who are older have been moved into foster care, away from their mothers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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