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Texas Court Agrees Children Must Be Returned

NOAH ADAMS, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams.

This afternoon, the highest court in Texas ruled that some children from a polygamous sect should be returned to their parents. Last month, more than 400 children were taken into state custody after allegations of sexual abuse. Now the State Supreme Court has agreed with the lower court decision, finding that Texas Child Welfare officials over stepped their authority.

We're joined now by NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty. Barbara, tell us what the ruling says in Texas.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Well, essentially, the ruling, the Supreme Court ruling affirmed the appellate court decision. First, it found that the state basically over-reached. Well there may have been a danger to the children - and many of these, more than 400 kids who were removed from the compound were girls - the Supreme Court found that the department moved too quickly, and that the trial judge in affirming this also moved too quickly to take away all of the children. The court found that the state could have found other approaches to protecting the kids without taking the really drastic step of removing all of them from their mothers. So, for example, the department could have removed the fathers from the households or made sure that the kids weren't taken away out of geographic boundaries until the investigation was complete. Also, the Supreme Court found that there was no evidence that the boys or the girls who had not yet reached puberty were in any danger whatsoever. So it shouldn't have removed them from their mothers.

ADAMS: Now it sounds like a big victory - the parents of some of the children have worked very hard to get their kids back - a big victory for them.

HAGERTY: It is a big victory for them, although I have to say that this opinion is a little bit unclear about what happens next. For example, I've talked to a couple of people, and we're not quite sure whether the kids are immediately returned to their parents. What the ruling says is that the department can do other things to protect the children, and it appears that the lower court should proceed on a case-by-case basis, investigating every claim of abuse. But I'm not sure that they immediately go back to the kids. So let's just look at investigating the abuse on a case-by-case basis. One way to do that is through DNA evidence. Next week, DNA reports come back, and it will show which mother had which child. And from that, the state can kind of determine whether the mother was underage, and thus, abused. And as you know, the Department of Family and Protective Services found that about 20 girls had had babies when they were between 13 and 17 years old. And they want to see if there are more girls in that situation.

ADAMS: Now what is - what are the attorneys for this state saying about what happened?

HAGERTY: Well, I haven't yet talked to the attorneys for the state. I know that they're going to be very, very disappointment - disappointed, I mean. What they said is that they did move in there and move quickly to protect the children, that essentially you have one shot at protecting children in these kinds of cases. And now I'm sure that they're very disappointed that they're not going to be able to do that.

ADAMS: Would there be other children about to be at risk?

HAGERTY: Yes, well, there are. If you'll remember, this case involves 38 mothers and about a 124 - exactly 124 kids. In toto, more than 400 kids were taken from the compound. So that means that there are a lot more mothers and a lot more kids whose cases have yet to be decided.

ADAMS: NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty, thank you.

HAGERTY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Noah Adams
Noah Adams, long-time co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, brings more than three decades of radio experience to his current job as a contributing correspondent for NPR's National Desk., focusing on the low-wage workforce, farm issues, and the Katrina aftermath. Now based in Ohio, he travels extensively for his reporting assignments, a position he's held since 2003.
Barbara Bradley Haggerty