9/25/09 – ADG: Judge advised baby born to Alamo followers is at risk

Arkansas Democrat Gazette
September 25, 2009

Judge advised baby is at risk – Boy born to two Alamo followers

A boy born in June to parents who are members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries is “at substantial risk of serious harm,” and a judge should take action to protect the child, state child-welfare officials contend.

The boy is the only child known to have been born into the ministry in Arkansas since state and federal authorities raided the ministry’s compound on Sept. 20, 2008. Since the raid, the department has placed 36 children, including the boy’s four young siblings, in foster care, saying they are endangered by practices that include beatings as punishment and underage marriages.

Alamo, 75, was convicted in July of transporting five underage girls across state lines for sex. He will be sentenced at a hearing in October.

In an affidavit filed in Miller County Circuit Court last week, a caseworker with the Arkansas Department of Human Services said the 3-month-old boy is in danger of abuse.

The affidavit notes that Circuit Judge Joe Griffin found in January that the ministry was an unfit environment for the boy’s four siblings, who range in age from 7 years to 18 months. Following the recommendation of the department, Griffin ruled that the children’s parents, Carlos and Sophia Parrish, can be reunited with their children only if they take certain steps, including moving off church property and finding jobs outside the ministry.

“The Department had not sought custody of [the 3-month old] up to this point, as the parents had made some progress toward achieving the goals of the case plan,” Family Service Worker Cindy Allen wrote in the affidavit. “However, the parents have failed to make further progress, as they have failed to secure independent housing and employment.”

A petition filed along with the affidavit asks Griffin to find the boy “dependent-neglected,” a legal term for a child deemed to be at risk of abuse or neglect.

The petition doesn’t say what action the department will ask Griffin to take, but the affidavit describes the petition as a “petition for change of custody.” Griffin is to rule on the petition at a hearing Oct. 27.

Misty Bowen Eubanks, an attorney supervisor for the Human Services Department, said she couldn’t comment on the Parrish case because of a gag order and laws requiring that child-welfare proceedings be kept confidential. However, she said, the department typically would not ask for a child to be placed in foster care unless the child was in immediate danger. In that case, the department would take the child into custody care immediately or seek an emergency order, Eubanks said.

When the department files a petition asking a child to be declared dependent-neglected, it typically asks for the judge to order monitoring by caseworkers or services for the family while the child remains at home, Eubanks said.

The department could eventually ask for the child to be placed in foster care if the parents failed to follow the judge’s orders, she said. If the parents comply, “we may never ask for the child to be placed in foster care,” Eubanks said.

Cheryl Barnes, litigation specialist for a group known as CPS Watch Legal Team, which is assisting ministry parents in the child-welfare cases, said the Parrishes have been worried since the child was born that the Human Services Department would place the child in foster care.

She noted that the petition was filed two days after the Parrishes filed an affidavit in U.S. District Court in Texarkana as part of a lawsuit contending that the Human Services Department is infringing on ministry members’ religious freedoms. A filing in the lawsuit questions why the department had not taken any action to protect the 3-month-old if it truly believed all ministry children are in danger of abuse.

She called the petition in Miller County Circuit Court“blatant retaliation.”

“It will discourage anybody from offering testimony in that lawsuit,” Barnes said.

Barnes said the Parrishes did not want to comment on the case, and a message left at the ministry complex in Fouke wasn’t returned Thursday.

The Parrishes are among several parents who are appealing orders requiring them to move off church property and find jobs outside the ministry. The department has recommended that some of the parents’ parental rights be terminated, meaning that the children could be put up for adoption, and that other children remain in foster care until they turn 18.

In the affidavit in U.S. District Court, Carlos Parrish denied allegations that he and his wife allowed other members’ children to be beaten, saying he didn’t know about any abuse. He also denied facilitating marriages of underage girls to adult men or forcing children to fast. He also denied an allegation that he had slapped one of his children with an open hand.

While he was accused of neglecting his 7-year-old son’s education, he said, the boy was schooled at home and that Human Services Department evaluations show he is “on or above level with his education.”

The Parrishes continue to live at the complex in Fouke but have signed a statement pledging that they will not allow their children to marry until they are of legal age, Barnes said. They also submitted to a mental health evaluation and took parenting classes, as Griffin ordered, Barnes said.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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