Caregivers blast Texas' treatment of polygamous sect's women, children
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Children living in crowded quarters that led to upper respiratory illnesses. Youngsters plagued with diarrhea from unhealthy foods they usually did not eat. Distressed mothers enduring widespread rudeness - such as flashlights shined in their faces as they tried to sleep.

Mental health professionals who helped care for FLDS women and children in the weeks after an April raid on the YFZ Ranch describe conditions and treatment they perceived as harsh and unnecessary.

"Never in all my life, and I am one of the older ladies, have I been so ashamed of being a Texan and seeing what and how our government agencies treat people," wrote one employee of Hill Country Community Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center in an unsigned statement.

Texas contracts with Hill Country to provide mental health services during disasters. Staff members met with the center's board of trustees last week, leaving them "spellbound." The board has gathered nine written statements critical of Child Protective Services.

Chairman John Kight said he wants state legislators and the governor to hear the employees' stories. "You have damaged these children for their lives," he said. "This is an agency that looks like it's gone out of control." A Texas CPS spokesman acknowledged the allegations were "very serious" and said they are being investigated. But he noted the women and children were held at a historic fort and a convention center in San Angelo in an unusual emergency situation.

"It was as comfortable as possible under the circumstances," said Patrick Crimmins. "But you have to remember it was a shelter, it was temporary arrangement until we could arrange for foster care for the children."

The raid was triggered by a claim of abuse at the ranch, home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamous sect traditionally based on the Utah-Arizona border. A baby born today brought the total of children in state custody to 465.

Not all Texas CPS employees were criticized by the Hill Country employees. One young man was described as sitting for two hours comforting a toddler separated from his mother. The Texas Rangers were "respectful and polite," according to another statement.

But the statements focus on the Hill Country staffers' dismay at uncaring behavior they say they witnessed by CPS employees.

A boy estimated at age 3 walked along a row of cots asking for someone to rock him after he was separated from his mother, one employee wrote. Two CPS worker trailed the youngster taking notes but not helping him. His brother, age 8, eventually took the child into his arms and sat with him in a rocking chair.

"That little boy will always be in my mind," the employee wrote. "How can a beautiful, healthy child be taken from a healthy, loving home and forced into a situation like that, right here in America, right here in Texas?"

Mothers who initially were allowed to stay with their children were later required to leave if their child was older than 12 months. Describing that day, one employee wrote, "the floor was literally slick with tears in places."

After the separation, a baby was allegedly left in a stroller with no food and water for 24 hours and ended up in a hospital, according to another statement.

"We don't believe that's the case, but we're checking into that," Crimmins said.

Several of the employees stated they do not condone polygamy or the alleged abusive treatment of children. But, they added, the FLDS mothers were not silent or hostile, as CPS had warned they would be. Instead, they were polite, focused on caring for the children, and willing to establish relationships, the mental health workers said.

Several writers claimed CPS workers repeatedly lied to the mothers regarding where they were going to be moved to and other issues.

Crimmins said he disputed that. The state has asserted the FLDS mothers were uncooperative with authorities, such as providing inaccurate or changing information about names and ages.

jlyon@sltrib.com