11/26/08 – Judge: Parents did not do enough to protect children

Texarkana Gazette
November 26, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

Judge: Parents did not do enough to protect children

Two pairs of sisters among six girls taken in September from Tony Alamo Christian Ministries will remain in foster care, a judge ruled Tuesday.

But reunification with their parents might be possible if economic, residential and employment ties are severed.

“There was a lot of testimony concerning allegations of physical abuse,” said Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin. “The court felt like the parents were not proactive enough in protecting the children from serious risk in the environment they were living.”

Last Friday, Circuit Judge Jim Hudson issued a ruling identical to Griffin’s concerning two other girls. All six of the girls seized by Arkansas Department of Human Services Sept. 20 have now been placed in foster care for at least the next 90 days.

“It’s been a long, long battle,” said Marshall Moore, who has represented all the parents of the six girls who are members of the church. “We want to see that our clients are reunited with their children as soon as possible.”

Griffin said the DHS case plan includes resources for parents.

“We’re offering parenting classes and counseling,” Griffin said. “We want to see them demonstrate a willingness to give priority to the protection of their children and their health, safety and welfare.”

Griffin said the punishment and discipline alleged in testimony from witnesses was “excessive.”

Witnesses also testified about marriages in the church, Griffin said.

“There was some testimony that a female child was eligible for marriage upon puberty though there was also testimony that had changed to 18, though historically it didn’t support that,” Griffin said.

Witnesses testified of a 12-year-old girl and several 14-year-old girls marrying, Griffin said.

“The circumstances under which some girls were living was inappropriate and not in their best interests,” Griffin said. “It leant itself to serious scrutiny.”

Griffin said the testimony he heard Monday from Alamo wasn’t a “significant” factor in his decision. Griffin confirmed he’d sustained objections from Moore during Alamo’s time on the stand.

“There was a lot of testimony concerning his religious beliefs,” Griffin said. “I thought it was important that we have a constitutional right to freedom of religion in this country. It is important to differentiate between what our religious beliefs are and whether that comes into conflict with our laws that we have to live by. The court is not here to dictate what church you go to.”

On Monday, Alamo criticized the scope of Biblical knowledge possessed by ad litem attorneys appointed to advocate for the girls in court.

“I wish he understood the laws of the land better,” said ad litem attorney Christy Carr when asked about Alamo’s disparaging statements.

Carr will continue to provide legal services for the sisters and one of their siblings.

The six girls and their parents will return to court in March for review hearings before Hudson and Griffin. The progress being made on DHS case plans will be reviewed then.

Before the DHS can recommend the placement of any child with parents or other family members, a home study of the potential placement must be conducted, said Danita Abernathy, executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates in Texarkana.

Each of the parents of the six girls will pay $83 weekly to the state for child support, the minimum allowed, Griffin said.

Nineteen of 20 children taken by DHS from church members Nov. 18 are scheduled for custody hearings Jan. 12. One of the children, a 17-year-old boy who will turn 18 next month, is scheduled for an adjudication hearing Dec. 17.

Once he turns 18, DHS can no longer tell him where he must live. However, if he remains in foster care until his birthday, he will be eligible for state-funded services that could benefit him in terms of education and employment.

The parents of the recently taken 20 are being permitted supervised visits with their children.

Parents of children who are still breast feeding are being allowed to see them every other day, while visits with older children are scheduled weekly.

As the parents of the children deal with the family separations, Alamo, the church’s controversial pastor, remains in a cell in downtown Texarkana. Alamo’s request for bail was denied.

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

| Back to Top |
Want to help?

Click the button!

Post A Comment

Please note: All comments are moderated. There is no need to resubmit your comment. Please submit a well thought out post with proper punctuation and spelling, so that it can be reviewed and posted promptly (as space allows).

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.