Sect children will undergo genetic tests next week

Adult mothers will be separated from children after state determines family relationships in polygamist group

Houston Chronicle/April 20, 2008

Adult mothers of young children seized from a West Texas polygamist ranch will be separated from them once experts complete court-ordered genetic testing, state officials said Saturday.

Child Protective Services has so far allowed mothers to stay with children 4 and under at their temporary quarters in the sports coliseum and pavilion in San Angelo.

"An adult woman obviously cannot go into the foster care system," said Greg Cunningham, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Teen mothers, however, will be able to stay with their children, Cunningham said.

A judge ruled on Friday that the 416 children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado will stay in state custody for at least six more weeks while authorities investigate allegations of abuse.

The judge also ordered DNA testing to sort out authorities' confusion over family ties in the reclusive breakaway Mormon sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"At this point we can't say exactly how long it will take for that testing to go through," said Cunningham.

Once experts complete the testing, the children will be placed into large group facilities, rather than individual foster homes, in an effort to keep family members together, Cunningham said.

Cunningham declined to go into detail about how Child Protective Services plans to remove the children from their mothers when the time comes.

"We do have plans in place for that," he said.

Future hearings will determine whether the children's ties to their parents will be permanently severed.

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