12/18/08 – Former Alamo follower to fight for custody of five kids

Texarkana Gazette
December 18, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

Former Alamo follower to fight for custody of five kids

A former Tony Alamo Christian Ministries member and mother of five boys currently in state custody, plans to leave the church in an attempt to regain custody, her attorney said Wednesday.

“Mom is going to leave the ministry and just wants to work to get her children back home,” Texarkana lawyer Pam Fisk said during the custody hearing.

Fisk was appointed in November to represent the father of one of the boys, a 17-year-old, who was taken into custody in November after being sworn in to testify in custody hearings at the Miller County Juvenile Court Center in downtown Texarkana. Those hearings concerned six girls removed from Alamo Ministries properties in Fouke, Ark., after a raid Sept. 20.

Last week, four of the boy’s brothers, ages 8, 10, 12 and 14 were found with their mother in a home in Arkansas, said Department of Human Services Director of Communication Julie Munsell last week. The boys share the same parents. The mother had already left the church when she was found with her four youngest children, Fisk said.

However, the 17-year-old and his mother were present in court to testify on behalf of the defense when DHS took custody of him last month. The boys’ father had not been a church member for eight years.

“I think they intend to reconcile,” Fisk said of the parents. “They’re still married and intend to work together to get the children.”

As the couple sat waiting for a hearing concerning their children to begin, the father draped a comforting arm around his wife’s back.

He has continued to have regular visits with the children during their separation, provides financial support and has purchased a car for his wife’s use, Fisk said.

“He was ready to leave and they were ready for him to leave,” Fisk said when asked why the father left the ministry.

The oldest boy will turn 18 in 10 days.

A final custody hearing must be conducted before he legally becomes an adult.

“There’s a possibility we will agree to the adjudication at that time,” Fisk said.

Inclement weather made travel to Texarkana impossible for the 17-year-old Wednesday, when the hearing was supposed to occur, leading Miller County Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson to reset the hearing for today.

However, one witness, who was scheduled to testify via telephone, was heard Wednesday. If the state maintains custody of the boy until his birthday, he will be eligible for independent living services, including help with college tuition or vocational school.

“The question for (the 17-year-old) is ‘Do you stay with DHS and go on to independent living or do you go out on your own at 18,’” said the boy’s attorney ad litem, Nelson Shaw of Texarkana.

“I’d like for him to get as much education as possible and have some training for a job as an alternative,” Shaw said. “Right now, he’s kind of unsure.”

Shaw said he plans to talk to the teen before the hearing and encourage him to take advantage of what DHS can offer.

Meanwhile, the parents of the boys waived probable cause hearings for the five younger boys. They will remain in state care at least until their adjudication hearings on Jan. 14.

Johnson will also determine that day what will happen to 19 other children taken into state custody in November the same day as the 17-year-old.

Previously, circuit judges Jim Hudson and Joe Griffin ruled that six girls taken in September would remain in foster care though reunification with their parents would be possible if economic, residential and employment ties with the church was severed.

Another six children found early this month in Fort Smith were ordered to remain in foster care by Sebastian County Circuit Judge Mark Hewett. The father of three of the children, who all share the same mother, wants custody of the kids for whom he’s been searching 10 years.

A final custody hearing in that case is scheduled for Jan. 30.

The parents of the seized children were granted weekly, hour-long supervised visits with their children.

The father of the 17-year-old who has a final custody hearing today said he hasn’t been given a visit with his son in more two and a half weeks despite repeated requests.

DHS spokeswoman Julie Munsell said she is not sure why there has been difficulty arranging the visits. DHS currently has 36 children in custody whose parents have ties to Alamo Ministries.

Two of the children removed from the ministries in November were still breast feeding when DHS removed them. A hearing will be held today before Griffin to address three times weekly nursing sessions the mothers of the toddlers had been granted.

“They’re essentially not breast feeding anymore,” Munsell said. “The order about breast feeding may be changed.”

All of the children were removed amid allegations of physical and sexual abuse and neglect. Only 36 children are in DHS custody whose parents have ties to Alamo Ministries. More than 125 names were listed on identical removal orders inked by judges in Miller and Sebastian counties in November. The whereabouts of at least 90 children remain unknown.

In: 2000-2007

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