This article was updated May 30 to include a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court. On June 2, the state of Texas began returning the children to their parents.
A little boy, maybe 3 years old, walks past row after row of cots arrayed in a sports coliseum in Texas, carrying a little pillow. “I need someone to rock me,” he says. “I just want to be rocked, I want to find a rocking chair.” Two adults, whose job is child protection, are following him. But they make no move to comfort him. They just follow him and write in their notebooks.
Other children, with their mothers, are jammed into a building dating to the 1800s, with no air conditioning and no indoor plumbing. Chicken pox quickly spreads; many children come down with diarrhea, some are hospitalized. At night, hostile overseers keep the women awake with their loud conversations and sometimes shine lights in their eyes.
More than 400 children and their mothers endured those conditions in the first days after Texas Child Protective Services raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, according to the only independent eyewitnesses–mental health professionals brought in by the State of Texas. (Their statements were published in the Salt Lake Tribune.) The state alleges that because some of the mothers are underage, all of the girls are at risk of sexual abuse and all of the boys are at risk of being “groomed” to be abusers.
The physical conditions under which the women and children were held ultimately improved, but the emotional conditions deteriorated, as the children, even toddlers, were separated from their mothers.
Indefinite detention without meaningful hearings, inadequate defense counsel, standards of proof that range from low to nonexistent and, in most states, secret tribunals, may sound like the Bush Administration’s war on terror. In fact, it’s all standard operating procedure as part of America’s war on child abuse. But mass detention is new. And now, with its raid on the compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Eldorado, the State of Texas has filled that last gap–complete with their own private Guantánamo.
A Texas appeals court ruled May 22 that the state had no right to take many of the children. But the children remain scattered throughout Texas, as CPS appeals the decision.
On one point, defenders of this indefinite detention are right. The issue on which this massive detention turns is not religion–the issue is alleged rape. But the allegations against the detainees at Guantánamo also are serious and real. There, the issue also is not religion but terrorism. What’s happening in Texas may be worse than Guantánamo. For starters, the victims are children.
When children are needlessly put into foster care, they lose not only mom and dad but often brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, friends and classmates. For a young enough child, it’s an experience akin to a kidnapping. One recent study of foster care “alumni” found they had twice the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder of Gulf War veterans and only 20 percent could be said to be “doing well.”