The children taken from the polygamist Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas will be tested this week to determine their parentage, then separated from the mothers who stayed with them, and sent to foster homes.
DNA testing begins Monday morning on the 416 children. The state of Texas is taking this step because of the confusion over the children's parentage. In many cases the children aren't sure of their names and they don't have birth certificates, so it is a daunting task for the state to identify each child.
To accomplish this task, a mobile genetics testing lab will park at the coliseum in San Angelo where the children are housed. The DNA test will help determine which child belongs to which parent, a surprisingly frustrating task for authorities — difficult because the children aren't sure who their fathers are, and some of the parents refuse to cooperate and identify their children.
Tuesday, the mobile testing lab will move down the road to the ranch in Eldorado, where the adults will be tested.
Darrell Azar, with the Texas Children's Protective Services, says only mothers younger than 18 will be allowed to stay with their children once the DNA testing is complete. The agency will also try to keep siblings together, which could be difficult because of the number of siblings.
Marleigh Meisner, also with the Children's Protective Services, says as soon as the DNA testing is finished the children will be placed in foster homes. "We begin right now looking for appropriate placements for these children. We are hopeful, in the coming days and weeks, we will find the very best placement for these children."
The testing was ordered by State District Judge Barbara Walther to sort out the confusion that has resulted from this unprecedented case. Walther on Friday ruled the state of Texas will keep custody of the 416 children taken from the YFZ Ranch — at least until hearings can be completed to look at each child's case.
The children come from families belonging to the reclusive sect of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, who had established a sprawling self-contained ranch in Texas.
They were taken after a phone call, from a girl known as Sarah, was placed to a woman's shelter in San Angelo. The girl said she was 16 and complained of being forced to marry a 50-year-old man who already had several wives. That girl has not been found yet.
Texas Rangers are now investigating the possibility that the phone call which triggered the raid, was a hoax. Rozita Swinton, 33, of Colorado Springs, is charged with false reporting, a misdemeanor.
Attorneys representing the children, and attorneys representing the parents, huddled all weekend after the hearing to mull over their legal options.
The children are heading into a foster care system that is already stretched thin and ranks among the worst in the nation.
Retired Texas family law Judge Scott McCown is not optimistic. "Our foster care system is overwhelmed and understaffed. Our child care workers are underpaid and overworked."
Ad litum attorney Susan Hays visited parents at the YFZ Ranch on Saturday. She represents one of the children, and says she was not surprised by Walther's ruling, but she is disappointed the children will not be going home. "The problem is making the ranch a safe environment where there is not a fear of abuse happening, where authorities can't monitor it."
Volunteers have descended on San Angelo to help take care of the children, including Gene Ground of Richardson, Texas, founder of Victim Relief Ministries. He says the children are playing with each other, and riding a trolley which takes them to a playground daily.
"They have freedom inside that entire coliseum to draw, make pictures, puzzles, motorized cars, helicopters — just all the things that children normally do, and that's really been very therapeutic and helpful [and] beneficial to them."