While a therapist for the children of a prominent polygamist expressed concern about returning them to their mother's custody, the woman's social worker said she has made great strides and should be reunited with them.
The testimony came in the second day of a hearing to determine if the children Heidi Mattingly, 33, has with John Daniel Kingston, 45, can be reunited with her.
If the judge finds that the children cannot be returned to her custody, a trial would be held on whether her parental rights should be terminated.
Robert Butters, a social worker who has been involved in therapy sessions with the children, testified Tuesday that Mattingly has failed to acknowledge that the children suffered abuse and neglect and that she failed to protect them.
Her reluctance to take that first therapeutical step "could be devastating to the kids," Butters said. "I think there is a substantial risk of detriment. I don't see how things would change without some acknowledgment."
He said that the children say they love their mother and want to be with her, but have expressed concerns about their life when they were with her and seem happy in their foster homes.
Mattingly's attorney, Gary Bell, called the case worker from the Division of Child and Family Services and a YWCA social worker for Mattingly to the stand. Both said Mattingly had made great progress particularly through a group therapy program that included other women from polygamist relationships.
Pat Merkely, a social worker that handles domestic violence therapy at the YWCA, said Mattingly had come into the shelter feeling persecuted and guarded. After the judge ordered a group therapy session that would deal specifically with issues found in polygamist relationships Mattingly "opened up," Merkely said.
"She accepted her failings of the past weaknesses. It's been a pretty powerful experience," Merkely said.
"You ask if it's time for Heidi to interact with her children and I say yes, it is time," she said.
Tuesday's hearing began with a two-hour meeting with 3rd District Juvenile Court Judge Andrew Valdez, attorneys and children in the judge's chambers.
Following the hearing Valdez said all of the children want to go home with their mother, but that some of them were afraid of Kingston and wouldn't want to have contact with him.
Throughout the proceedings Mattingly has been reluctant to implicate Kingston as an abuser and maintains that she loves him.
Although Valdez said he promised the children, who have been in state custody since October, that he would make a decision Tuesday the hearing lasted into the late evening and was continued to Wednesday.