Polygamist sect’s kids will go to foster homes until after hearings

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Adult mothers who have been allowed to stay with their young children since they were taken from a polygamous sect will be separated from them after DNA sampling is completed next week, a child welfare official said Saturday.

Texas District Judge Barbara Walther late Friday ordered that parents and children of the Yearning For Zion Ranch submit DNA samples to help sort out family relationships that have confounded authorities since 416 children were taken into state custody two weeks ago.

Sampling is to begin Monday and will probably take several days to complete, said Darrell Azar, a spokesman for Child Protective Services. Results could take more than a month.

Once sampling is complete, the agency will begin moving the children from the San Angelo coliseum and fairgrounds to other sites.

Child welfare officials allowed adult mothers with children ages 4 and younger to stay together when the state took custody of the rest of the children from the ranch. Now, only mothers younger than 18 will be allowed to remain with their children once the sampling is complete. The welfare agency will also try to keep siblings together, he said.

“We’re going to make these transitions as easy as possible,” Azar said. “We want to keep them together as much as possible so they don’t feel they’re completely isolated from their culture or the people they know.”

Walther on Friday continued an emergency order giving the state custody of the children after a sometimes chaotic two-day hearing in which the state argued that the teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints jeopardized children.

The child welfare agency has said that the sect encourages adolescent girls to marry older men and have children, and that boys are groomed to become future perpetrators. Sect members deny the allegations.

Individual hearings will be set for the children over the next several weeks, and the judge will determine whether they are moved into permanent foster care or can be returned to their parents. All of the hearings must be held by June 5.

The custody case is one of the nation’s largest and most complicated. The ruling Friday capped two days of testimony that sometimes became disorderly as hundreds of lawyers for children and parents competed to defend their clients in two rooms linked by a video feed.

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