Richard Wexler has followed the FLDS case closely, especially after the news that the state plans to send the children in groups to foster facilities.
"You can make a case that some of those children needed be removed from the compound, but none of them needed to be taken from his or her mother. That is the crucial failing here," Wexler says. "The original rationale for taking some of the children was, 'Well, that'll be a way of getting them to talk.' Waterboarding would make it easier to get them to talk, but that's not a good idea either. And even Texas CPS may know that infants can't talk. I don't even know what their rationale is now."
Wexler runs the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform in Virginia, and when the Press wrote about Child Protective Services last year, Wexler told us he ranked Texas as one of the worst states for child welfare.
"This is all being done, as far as I can see, solely for convenience of CPS and punishing people they perceive of as bad mothers," Wexler says. "A better option would be to treat this as a refugee crisis, not a child welfare issue."
Wexler compares the women and children from the FLDS to the large number of Vietnamese who fled Southeast Asia in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The refugees left on boats, and after arriving in the United States, many girls reported being raped.
"No one was callous enough, or stupid enough, to say to the women, 'Well, you didn't stop your children from being raped so we'll take the children from you,'" Wexler says. "Instead, those women and children were resettled together. That's how this should be handled. That's how any agency with an ounce of compassion would deal with a crisis like this."
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In the mid-1990s, there was a movement to place more neglected children in orphanages. House Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed that unwed, teenage mothers should be taken off welfare and states could use the money to build new orphanages. A state-operated facility in Illinois, the Maryville Academy, was touted as a model system.
In a segment that appeared on 60 Minutes, Wexler said, "If we start building all these orphanages, 20 years from now, you're going to be back here doing an exposé on conditions in America's horrible new orphanages." Seven years later, about 200 children were removed from Maryville after reports revealed physical and sexual abuse.
As the FLDS children are moved to state-run facilities in Texas, Wexler predicts bad things in this case as well.
"These children will be placed further out of sight and out of mind, by being scattered all across the state. We've already seen that begin," Wexler says. "That will make it harder for the children to visit anyone they know, and it will make it harder for lawyers to represent them. That's just the way Texas CPS wants it." – Paul Knight