Find a place for children of polygamy

Amber McKenna

It started with reports of a 16-year-old girl calling a domestic abuse hotline. She said she had been married to and impregnated by a 49-year-old man, who had physically abused her at 15.

The result was hundreds of children of all ages without homes. These children can’t find a place in today’s society because they were raised in a culture reminiscent of 100 years in the past.  

Investigations into these reports led to the April 3 raid of the Yearning for Zion Ranch outside of El Dorado, Texas. The ranch itself was owned and run by a sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. At almost 1,700 acres, it was self-sustaining and mostly hidden to inquiring eyes by a rock formation.

According to Associated Press reports, the compound, disguised as a hunting retreat, has multiple dormitory buildings, a temple, sewage plant, medical clinic, food storage and processing facilities, watchtowers and 10-foot-high surrounding walls. It is said to have about 150 buildings.

After the search and seizure in early April, 437 children were removed from the ranch.

These children were subjected to DNA testing and examined for physical signs of abuse. The testing will help untangle the web of alleged incest, abuse, underage marriage and sex.

What is the state of Texas to do with more than 400 children out of a home? The children are being placed all around the state in temporary foster homes, group homes, boys ranches and women’s shelters.

Child Protective Services has its hands full. The goal of the temporary placement is to keep the children apart from others in an attempt not to change them.

These children have never been introduced to the world of pop culture. This means no television, no cereal, no manufactured foods, no jeans, no decision making and no talking back.

While some of these children might return to their parents after custody hearings, many will be put into foster homes, or able to choose their fate in the real world.

How will society deal with these children once they find their way into the mainstream?

The children will be bullied in the public school system and outcast among other foster children who have grown up with television and sometimes with drug and alcohol abuse.

The public school system is on another level. Children from the FLDS sect have been home schooled all their lives, and although they may be ahead in some subjects for their ages, other subjects may have been omitted completely. Imagine being 16 and knowing nothing about computers or cell phones.

The children who are about to turn 18 will have the option of choosing where they want to go. But is there a place for them?

They have basic skills and farm experience, but they cannot be expected to understand or even navigate the world of 2008 when they have been living in the 19th century for their entire lives.

The young mothers have it the toughest. These women, at ages 19 and 20, have multiple infants. They have no marketable skills. There is nothing for them without the support of the sect.

What this case needs is to put in place a serious immersion program for those from the polygamist ranch. It would take time and money to be sure, but the 400-something children need to be introduced to the modern world. They need to be taught essential principles and concepts and basic technological skills.

If the children choose to return to their way of life, secluded and out of date, they will know they are living in a place and time they don’t understand and doesn’t understand them.

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