Texas childcare authorities late on Friday appealed a state court's decision to reverse their removal of hundreds of children from a polygamist sect, arguing that returning them would be irresponsible.
The state’s Child Protective Services (CPS) also argued that the children could not be returned because their real parents had not been positively identified.
“The department is not in a position to properly identify the correct mothers or fathers at this time, because maternity and paternity testing ... has not been completed,” CPS lawyers said in the petition filed with the Texas Supreme Court.
The nine-member court did not immediately rule on the petition, but lawyers representing a group of parents from the sect rejected the argument as unsubstantiated.
“The Department’s profession of ignorance regarding the children’s parentage is refuted by its own conduct at the [lower court] hearing,” the lawyers for the parents wrote. “It is undisputed that the department has allowed these mothers to visit their children.”
The filings came after a Texas appeals court ruled on Thursday that state authorities had had no right to remove the children from the sect because it had not proven they were in imminent danger.
Officials raided the sprawling compound of the reclusive sect on April 3 and took 250 girls and 213 boys into state custody amid allegations of systemic sexual and physical abuse.
Officials said girls were being “groomed” to accept sex with their middle-aged “spiritual husbands” as soon as they hit puberty and boys were being indoctrinated to perpetuate the cycle of abuse by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
But the Texas Court of Appeals ruled that CPS overstepped its authority.
“Evidence that children raised in this particular environment may someday have their physical health and safety threatened is not evidence that the danger is imminent enough to warrant invoking the extreme measure of immediate removal prior to full litigation of the issue,” the ruling said.
The appeals court gave the judge who ordered the children into state custody 10 days to vacate that order. While CPS said it had found a “pervasive pattern of sexual abuse that puts every child at the ranch at risk,” the court ruled there was insufficient evidence to warrant the removal of all the children.
“The Department did not present any evidence of danger to the physical health or safety of any male children or any female children who had not reached puberty,” the nine-page ruling said.