2 May 2008

Texas Department of Family & Protective Services Provides Senate Committee With Eldorado Update

Texas Department of Family & Protective Services website
April 30, 2008

The Department of Family and Protective Services provided the Senate Health and Human Services Committee with an update Wednesday, April 30, 2008 on the children removed from an Eldorado ranch. The update included information about some of the key challenges for investigators, the findings to date, and the care of the children.

Challenge in determining family relationships

One of the many challenges that makes these cases unique is that we don’t have any degree of certainty about the identities of the parents of children in our care.

  • The women who left the ranch with the children have given multiple names and ages for themselves and the children. In addition, information provided by the women about which children were theirs and other family relationships changed frequently.
  • The stories about family relationships continued to change as we loaded buses to move children around the state. We placed the children according to the latest information the women had provided about sibling groups and mother-child relationships. As the buses were loaded, there were instances where women came forward with different information. In one case, a minor who previously had said she didn’t have children begged not to be separated from her baby. We were able to place the girl with her child.
  • Cultural issues have made it difficult for children to provide information about their biological parents. The women share parenting duties. They care for, console, discipline and breast feed each other’s children. When we ask a child who his mother is, he will tell us several names because the children think of all the women in a house as their mothers and all the children are considered their siblings
  • Based on interviews with the children, we have reason to believe that some of the children in our care do not have parents at the Eldorado ranch.
  • Court-ordered DNA tests will be used to determine the family relationships.

Challenge in getting information

These children have been taught to fear those outside their community, and that complicates the investigation and interview process.

  • In both San Angelo shelters, we tried to use bracelets to identify children, but the women and children removed the bracelets or rubbed the wording off them.
  • Women initially refused to let the children undergo basic health screenings, and many teen girls declined to take pregnancy tests.
  • When children tried to talk, women and older children often told them not to speak or coached them on what to say.

Cause for concern

The very first interviews with underage girls at the ranch revealed a pattern of underage girls being “spiritually united” with adult men and having children with the men. Investigators also observed a pattern of deception in those first interviews. Women and children frequently said they could not answer questions about the ages of girls or family relationships. Children were moved from location to location in an apparent attempt to prevent investigators from talking to them. Investigators observed numerous girls who had small children, and girls told us that marriages could occur at any age. When an investigator asked one girl how old she was, she looked at her husband. “You’re 18,” he said. She then answered that she was 18. Other school-aged children and teens would provide only first names and said they didn’t know their birthdates or had been told by their parents not to answer questions.

The investigation is still in its early phases, but we have gathered additional information that is cause for concern:

  • There are 27 girls who have indicated that they are 14 to 17 years old. There are an additional 26 girls who have provided conflicting information about their ages, at some points indicating they are minors and at other times saying they are adults. Of these 53 girls, more than 30 have children, are pregnant, or both. Six of these girls have two children, and two have three children.
  • Medical exams and reports by the children indicate that at least 41 children have had broken bones in the past. We do not have X-rays or complete medical information on many children so it is too early to draw any conclusions based on this information, but it is cause for concern and something we’ll continue to examine.
  • Based on interviews with the children and journal entries found at the ranch, we are continuing to look into the possible sexual abuse of some young boys.

Care of the children

DFPS has moved all of the children into licensed residential foster care.

Minor mothers and their children are being kept together, and other girls are staying in groups with their sisters. We have provided caregivers with information about the lifestyles of the children, including their dietary needs and the clothing they wear.

Adult women have been allowed to stay with children who are 12 months old or younger. We found placements for 17 mothers and their infant children. All other adult women who left the ranch with the children were given the option of returning to the ranch or going to a women’s shelter.

Boys ages 8 and older are being kept together. Two boys have turned 18 while in the state’s custody and have chosen to remain in the state’s care.

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