Foster resolute about getting her kids back
Heidi Mattingly Foster stands alone in what once was her home and makes a list of everything here.
Couch, tables, lamps, desks, beds, dressers. Eleven dressers.
All of this is to be, with the help of strangers, packed up and moved in a single day.
Yet Foster is ready, not just to move, but to move heaven and earth to get her children back.
And this is just the first of many steps Foster, 33, has taken since 3rd District Juvenile Judge Andrew Valdez removed eight of her 11 children from her home and sent her to a domestic violence shelter. Valdez also ordered her to have no contact with members of “The Order” – the insular Davis County Co-Operative Society founded by the family of her children’s father, polygamist John Daniel Kingston.
With that order, the judge took away Foster’s job, home, church, family and friends. Get a new home, he said, and a new job.
And, believing that proving her independence will bring her children home, Foster agreed.
“I would give my life for those kids,” she says, “and essentially I did.”
Maintaining sanity: Foster arrived at the YWCA in Salt Lake City on Oct. 22 with a few changes of clothes, a brush, a Bible she got for Christmas from Kingston, formula and diapers for her 4-month-old baby.
She brought a photo album and framed pictures of her children. Among them: a photo she took of the eight children on the steps of the Matheson Courthouse the day Valdez sent them into foster care.
The judge had ordered Foster to bring them to court that day and she “had a 100 percent idea they would take the kids.” The children had been labeled “siblings at-risk” in hearings earlier this summer, when Foster and Kingston landed in court after a dispute with their oldest daughters over piercing their ears. Finding that Kingston was abusive and Foster failed to protect the girls, Valdez removed them from her home.
Now, there were new allegations – that she and Kingston were uncooperative with the family’s caseworker, that their 2-year-old son had an unexplained black eye (she says he hit it falling off a slide at day care), that their 15-year-old son was attending a Kingston school rather than West High, as ordered. This apparently only added to Valdez’s increasing frustration with Foster’s attitude and lack of cooperation.
The judge acted as Foster anticipated, almost. He left the baby with her.
“There is no way I would have any sanity at all if I would have lost her,” Foster says. “I would have lost everything. So [Heavenly Father] gave me her.”
Three days later, Foster says, her public defender, Russ Pietryga, presented her with two scenarios: Promise Valdez that you’ll cut off all interaction with The Order and prove your independence, or the state will try to permanently remove your children, including the baby.
Pietryga did not return several phone calls from The Salt Lake Tribune. But other attorneys at the hearing said the proposal he offered Valdez was intended to let Foster show she’s making her own decisions, outside the influence of Kingston.
Foster didn’t think anyone would take the plan seriously. “I didn’t believe anyone could go for something so contrary to the fundamental beliefs this country is founded on,” she says.
The reality hit hard on Friday. “All along their agenda has been to get me out of this life- style, to say what associations I can and can’t have and what religion I can practice,” she says.
Tricky piece: State attorneys claim abuse, not religion, is the issue. They have made the case that Foster is an unfit mother who has been investigated numerous times by the Division of Child and Family Services for failing to supervise her children and letting them live in squalor.
They have argued she and the children are victims of domestic violence, even indentured servitude, but that she is so immersed in Kingston “groupthink” that she cannot or will not accept the truth of her situation. That she is even, as insinuated in court, an abusive mother herself.
In June, Guardian Ad Litem Kristen Brewer told The Tribune that since Foster failed to recognize herself as abused or Kingston as abusive, it “is going to be a tricky piece figuring out how to work with her to help her.”
Foster says a DCFS therapist spent hours this summer trying to convince her she was being abused. The therapist gave her a list of abuse symptoms and asked her to note those she had experienced.
Some matched, she decided. It feels like what’s happening to her in court, she says.
“I don’t know what mindset has caused them to go down this path,” Foster says. “There is this notion that for a woman to choose this lifestyle, there is no way she could find happiness or joy, that she has to be oppressedand have no mind of her own.”
Valdez’s action does trouble some domestic violence activists who say it violates the fundamental principle of letting a victim seek help.
“The feeling of the people who work in domestic violence is that it is not our job to tell the victim to leave home or go to the shelter,” says Brandy Farmer, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Council. “We can recommend it, and we can provide them with resources. But only the victim knows when the right time is to leave her home and go to a shelter.
“If we are constantly telling victims what to do, we are exercising our power and control over them, just as offenders are,” she says.
Foster says Kingston and others in The Order have been nothing but loving and supportive of her. “There are a lot of things that have happened to me this year, but as far as my life, I wouldn’t trade any of it.”
An Ordered life: Heidi Foster is the second oldest of 11 children born to Vicky and Ronald Mattingly, who joined The Order when she was preschool-age. At the time, the family lived in Huntington, where her father worked as an electrician for the Kingston-owned Co-op Mine.
While many members practice polygamy, some, like her parents, do not.
Foster describes her childhood as idyllic, her parents as loving and patient. “My parents blessed me with the gift that there wasn’t anything I could not do,” she says.
But when the family moved to Salt Lake City so her parents could pursue degrees at the University of Utah, Foster’s self-confidence wavered.
She had just finished ninth grade as a 4.0 student, a member of the drill team and was involved in as many school activities as she could cram in.
But the thought of a “big city” high school filled her with dread.
“I knew I would be a nobody,” she says. Worse, she feared that all her academic success was a fluke, that she might not be so smart after all.
She feared failing. And so Foster asked her parents to let her quit school and go to work, helping the family get by while they finished their degrees. In so doing, she began to follow a pattern typical within The Order.
Her parents agreed and Foster got a job at a Kingston business. Another proposal soon surfaced. John Daniel Kingston came calling and after a short courtship, asked her parents for approval to take Heidi, then 16, as a wife – just as he had done with her older sister.
“They wanted to make sure it was my decision and what I wanted and it absolutely was,” Foster says.
To keep the union secret, she adopted the name Foster – her great-grandmother’s name. She moved easily into plural marriage. “I probably had the luxury of not having any preconceived notions or fears,” says Foster. And, “Daniel is a wonderful guy, very supportive.”
“I don’t think my lifestyle is for everyone, but I should have the right to live it,” she says.
Today, an estimated 14 women have families with Kingston; he has somewhere between 100 and 120 children. Among them: Mary Ann Kingston, whom he belt-whipped in 1998 after she fled a union with his brother, David Kingston. He pled no contest and served a jail term for the offense.
Foster became a mother at age 17 and has had a child every 23 months since; her 11th was born this summer.
She and the children have lived in a various Order-owned apartments and homes, including one that was deemed so decrepit that the state took temporary custody of the six children she had until she found better accommodations.
She admits now the home was a “poor choice. We had grown out of an apartment and that was the first house we found that had what we needed,” she says. “I was so gung-ho to get into a home I took it.”
Foster has always worked, upholding the society’s ideal of self-sufficiency. “I live in my own house, take care of my own kids, have my own job and finances and resources,” she says.
If it’s been a struggle, Foster doesn’t let on. But in court testimony, her oldest daughters described secretly slipping her gas money, helping her with the rent and eating food discarded by grocery stores. And case workers have found the family’s living conditions substandard several times, including as recently as February.
“For some of the wives, [the men] will supply the housing but nothing else,” says Christy Tucker, who with her husband and family left The Order in 2001. “It is up to the women to feed and clothe them. Housekeeping is a major problem because you don’t have the money to buy what you need to keep your house organized. If you’re working 10 hours a day, you don’t have time to even think about housework.”
That fits Foster, who considers the ability to have a job and a large family, supported by helpful friends and relatives, one of the virtues of belonging to The Order.
Over theyears, she worked as a receptionist, raised chickens – “that’s my low,” she says – did farm work, accounting, marketing, sales, graphic arts, Web design and finally, became photographer at Advanced Copy and Printing, an Order business.
Several years ago, when Advanced Copy added a film-developing lab, Foster suggested it also set up a photo studio – and was given the job of running it. She plunged into learning all she could about photography.
“When I set my mind to something, I want to succeed at it,” Foster says.
Foster had earned her high school diploma in 1998, while pregnant with her eighth child. In 2003, she enrolled at Salt Lake Community College to pursue a double major: e-commerce and photography. She completed three semesters and then, as the family’s troubles mounted, quit.
She feared Judge Valdez would frown on it. He had, after all, “directly told me to not go to work,” she says, referring to a courtroom discussion this summer as she neared delivery.
Staking everything: Pleasing Valdez has become one of Foster’s primary focuses.
A day after arriving at the YWCA, she began searching for a home with no connection to The Order.
First, she looked for an apartment – a major challenge for a woman with 11 kids. She thought she’d found one, only to be turned away when the landlord realized who she was.
So she shifted to homes for sale. But how does a woman with no credit history, who is cut off from family that might co-sign, get a mortgage? With the help of a real estate agent, she focused on homes offered by sellers willing to carry the financing.
Last Monday, she found a house with five bedrooms and the possibility for two more, a fenced yard and a basketball hoop she figures her sons will love.
Using $3,400 in child support from Kingston and $1,600 in savings, she made an offer. By Friday, Foster was a homeowner.
“It’s a miracle, isn’t it?” she says. “If it was just me, I would be surprised, but I believe there have got to be angels up in heaven working this stuff out for me.”
On Saturday, as a dozen young men put together beds and hauled in boxes, she stopped before each bedroom and announced which children would occupy it.
The one with blue and red walls? The little boys’ room. The one with purple and green paint? The little girls’. One basement room is perfect for her oldest daughter; the other ismarked for her teenage son.
When. If. “I’m staking everything on it,” says Foster, who is to appear before Valdez again on Wednesday. She believes the state is “hoping that I’ll fail.” She is determined not to.
“I have complete faith in Daniel. I trust my Heavenly Father. He wouldn’t give me anything I couldn’t handle. I can’t believe he thinks I can handle this, but if he does, I’ll do my best not to disappoint him.”
She will go through a third psychological evaluation tomorrow and has met with her case worker to come up with a service plan.
Item one on her to-do list – get a home – is checked off. Now for item two: Bring the children home and get them safely settled. Then she’ll focus on figuring out how to support her family, which will be made easier by the monthly child support Valdez has ordered Kingston to pay.
State aid is not an option, she says. “That is one of those things we pride ourselves on – self-sufficiency, self-sufficiency. It’s going to be hard to stay off but I’ll do my best.”
Foster expects that once she demonstrates her independence, she will be free to live her life as she sees fit – including returning to the Davis County Co-Operative Society and Kingston.
Strong-willed? Yes she says. And then she tells this story.
Her grandmother was left a widow with a handful of small children after her husband died in an accident. They, too, had been members of The Order – which displeased her mainstream Mormon family. For a week or so they refused to help her bring his body to Salt Lake City for burial unless she agreed to cut off ties to The Order.
The grandmother acquiesced. The body was buried. And then she reneged, telling her family she would “never leave these people.”
Or so goes the family lore.
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