25 Sep 2008

Coalition wants polygamy 'Safety Net' for Texas

Deseret News - September 25, 2008

by Ben Winslow

DALLAS — It's never too late to learn.

Members of Utah's polygamous communities are here to speak to social workers, Child Protective Services caseworkers and law enforcement about the plural life and how to interact with fundamentalists — perhaps averting another raid.

Members of the pro-polygamy group Principle Voices and Utah's Safety Net Committee are presenting a pair of workshops today on polygamous culture to hundreds of people at the Texas Council on Family Violence's annual conference.

"Utah's made all the same mistakes," said Pat Merkeley, a social worker and the newly appointed coordinator for the Safety Net Committee, a coalition of polygamists, government and social service agencies from Utah and Arizona.

"Hopefully, we are building on the mistakes of our past."

The April raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch in Eldorado exposed a lack of knowledge about polygamists, at least among social service workers in Texas.

"We didn't have adequate knowledge to be able to effectively serve a plural family community," said Gloria Terry, the president of the Texas Council on Family Violence. "We didn't understand how we could best serve individuals in that community, because it is so different from the families that we typically serve that are in crisis."

In Utah, polygamy has a long and storied history. It is that history that Principle Voices' Anne Wilde is speaking about, focusing on the raids in Utah and Arizona in the 1930s, '40s and '50s.

"The result was those people did not give up their lifestyle or their religious belief in plural marriage," she said. "If anything, it made them more determined, more loyal to their beliefs than anything."

It also created closed societies, making it harder for victims to reach out and advocates to get in to help.

"Naturally, we don't want there to be victims and we are there to help them as well — if there really are," Wilde said. "But I don't think you go into a whole community and do what they did with that raid in Texas in an effort to help the victims."

More than a hundred children remain under CPS jurisdiction as the abuse investigation moves forward. A series of criminal indictments have been handed down against FLDS members charging them with sexual assault, bigamy and failure to report child abuse.

Today's workshops are designed to give social workers and other professionals information as they go forward with the FLDS custody case, Terry said.

"In Texas, we are the system that supports the programs that provide services to families in crisis," Terry said. "I can't pass judgment on what did or did not happen by either side. We knew there were people who were negatively affected. How do we assist them?"

Merkeley is proposing that Texas consider creating its own "Safety Net."

"We're hoping that it will be a model for other states," she said.

Created by the Utah and Arizona attorneys general, the Safety Net Committee brings representatives from polygamous communities to the same table as government, while offering help to abuse victims in the often-isolated communities. As of January, the Utah Attorney General's Office estimated 1,300 people had been offered some kind of assistance through the Safety Net.

Since the YFZ raid, domestic violence coalitions in Utah, Arizona and Texas have been in regular contact with each other. Terry had praise for the Safety Net, which provides a host of resources for victims of abuse leaving a closed society.

"It seems like Utah and Arizona have figured out ways to truly connect their systems around this issue. Unfortunately, in Texas I don't think we've done that yet," Terry said. "Everybody's working hard, trying to do the right thing."

This article was found at:

http://deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,700261526,00.html

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