Kids from sect will have a lot to face on the outside

CBS News/April 22, 2008

As the children of the polygamist sect members move out of life in the compound, they're literally moving on to a whole new life, and a new set of emotional needs.

The placement of the children in group home settings is by design: it keeps them with large numbers of children - the way they're used to living.

"Their learning curve is going to be very, very steep," says Austin psychologist Carl Pickhardt.

Pickhardt tells CBS 42 communication with the kids is key.

"People get very, very anxious in new situations where they do not have adequate information about what's going on," says Pickhardt. "It gets even more anxiety-provoking if you have no relationship you can count on."

Pickhardt advises giving the children stability - routine and rapport with an adult. The Department of Family and Protective Services says it is trying to keep siblings together, and underage mothers will be placed with their babies. Pickhardt says caregivers should get a profile of need for each child, something the state tells CBS 42 it will do.

"The kids will have all kinds of different questions about what does this mean, what will happen," says Pickhardt.

Children will run head-first into the outside world attending public schools.

"We know they've been through a trauma," says Debbie Graves Ratcliffe with the Texas Education Agency. "I'm sure counselors will be involved. Some districts already have them on standby."

Pickhardt suggests kids meet in groups to process new experiences. But their minds probably won't be far from their old lives.

"Unless you have some reason to believe that connection is an injurious one," says Pickhardt, "that kid needs to have the power to reach back to a relationship that matters to him."

Calls and supervised visits with parents are up to the judge. So far she has not addressed those issues.

The Department of Family and Protective Services doesn't know how long the kids will remain in Austin. The agency's goal is to eventually put together family plans that will help reunite children with their parents.

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