11 Apr 2008

Children's removal was not 'hostile,' as feared

The Salt Lake Tribune - April 10, 2008

by Julia Lyon

Children taken from a Texas polygamous community "in some ways . . . still are pretty healthy" despite their removal, said a child psychiatrist advising Texas officials.

"There was an initial desire to have this mental health SWAT team, but the truth is because of the circumstances around the way removal took place it was actually not that traumatic - it wasn't that hostile," said Bruce Perry, a senior fellow at the Child Trauma Academy in Houston.

Child welfare officials "allowed adult members to come with [children]," Perry said. "I think they did a lot of things right."

Perry has consulted on high-profile cases involving children, including the Branch Davidian siege, the Columbine shootings and the September 11 attacks, according to the academy's Web site.

Since Thursday, police and child welfare officials have removed 419 children from an Eldorado, Texas, ranch owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

During the removal, "there's been no violence, no angry outbursts," Perry said. "Every effort has been made to communicate with elders in the group and explain what's going on."
The children are generally in good health, but 12 have been isolated because they may have chicken pox, said Sandra Guerra-Contu, a doctor with the Texas Department of State Health Services at an afternoon news conference in San Angelo.

While it does not appear the children have been vaccinated, officials are not currently arranging such care, she said. The doctor declined to discuss whether any teenagers are pregnant, as noted in court documents.

Officials also have consulted with Utah experts familiar with polygamous communities.

Patricia Sheffield, director of the Washington County Children's Justice Center, has offered insights to an official from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Sheffield shared advice on terminology, such as that generally FLDS children say "father" instead of "dad," a term which can be considered disrespectful.

The children's justice center has also learned in its own work that FLDS children generally are not taught about abuse in the terms public schools commonly use to educate students.

"These kids aren't taught the same way as children in elementary and junior high school are taught about good touch-bad touch," she said.

Perry has a similar perspective.

"Part of the problem is the children have been socialized to a way of thinking," he said. "They don't understand the degree, I don't think, the degree they're being exploited or harmed when they're given off to a marriage at age 12."

Officials have alleged sect members marry girls as young as age 13.

Perry declined to give further specifics about his work in Texas.

Offers of help - from donations to interest in taking in the children - have poured in from around the country, but Texas officials say they do not immediately need items nor additional foster families. They invite those interested in helping in the future to register via e-mail at communityengagement @dfps.state.tx.us.

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