7 Jan 2009

Some at Texas polygamist ranch fight label of abuser

The Dallas Morning News
January 7, 2009

By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – About 30 percent of polygamist sect adults labeled by the state as child abusers or neglectful parents have asked Child Protective Services to take a second look at their status.

Last fall, 95 sect adults received letters from CPS identifying them as perpetrators of child mistreatment. Of them, 28 have asked for an administrative review, CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins said Tuesday.

"We are approaching these reviews objectively and fairly, as we do in any case," Crimmins said.

Reviews are being conducted by CPS personnel who weren't involved in the original investigation, as state law requires, he said.

Willie Jessop, spokesman for the Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said many sect adults are too weary or financially pinched to fight to clear their names.

He said he fears some, especially women trained as nurses, may hurt their employment prospects by not contesting CPS' actions.

"It may be five or 10 years down the road before they really see the true consequences of not fighting it when they could have," he said.

Under Texas law, CPS has 45 days to review a contested finding. If it upholds the original allegation, a person can ask the agency's Office of Consumer Affairs for a second review. Some also can ask for a hearing before an administrative law judge.

Kerry Sullivan, general counsel for the State Office of Administrative Hearings, said most such hearings involve people who are trying to get work in the child-care industry but are blocked when their name pops up in a background check. Civic groups such as the Boy Scouts also turn down prospective volunteers who are identified as perpetrators.

CPS has accused most of the 95 sect adults of "neglectful supervision," for failing to shield their youngsters from underage marriages. It says, though, that 30 of the adults either consented to or took part in sexual abuse of girls, ages 12 to 15. Sect leaders say girls aren't mistreated and that while teen pregnancies do occur, they are no more common than in society at large.

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