DCFS Faces the Unknown in Polygamous Cases

DCFS Faces the Unknown in Polygamous Cases

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Kimberly Houk ReportingThe recent case against polygamist John Daniel Kingston offered a glimpse into a unique dilemma faced by social workers in Utah -- what to do about children raised in polygamy? Not all of them are subjects of abuse, but the Kingston case showed there may be a cultural dynamic that victimizes the children.

It's a culture that requires women and children to be submissive. In an abusive household the mother and children are both victims, but caseworkers say they can help. And they do it by providing lots of counseling, and by making regular home visits aimed at turning the home into a safe haven for children.

Richard Anderson, Division of Child and Family Services: "What we're trying to do in the polygamous home is look at, are there enduring relationships there that are actually protective."

For example, does the mother want to protect her children, but she's afraid to? It's a question the judge asked in court last week and now DCFS is going to try and get to the bottom of it by giving their mother enough help and resources to see if, when given the choice again, she'll choose her children over her husband.

Richard Anderson: "We'll be looking at helping her develop whatever skills she needs to make sure that she can keep them safe from the father. That's a real dilemma for the mother. She's got two strong relationships there that she's having to decide between."

And through counseling, the Division says they will help her learn how to prioritize.

Richard Anderson: "In a counseling situation you help her work through her spiritual beliefs, her history in this relationship, looking at the patterns that have happened, and whether this is safe for her children to maintain a relationship with the father."

The division is currently monitoring several polygamous homes. In the case of Kingston, he's under orders to make child support payments -- a step the judge hopes will free his wife from the financial hold Kingston has over her.

The judge says he wants her to gain independence and see if that changes her ability to protect her children. DCFS wants to also help her get to that point, but first they had to dive in and learn about the culture of polygamy.

Richard Anderson: "Some of the polygamous groups have actually opened themselves up for us to come and visit and see how their lifestyle works."

Anderson says not all polygamous relationships are abusive, but the court found that John Daniel Kingston is abusive. And if he doesn't learn to control his violent temper, the judge's ruling makes it possible for the state to go after the other 120 reported children that Kingston has fathered with 13 other wives.

Richard Anderson: "The difficulty is in even finding all of the other relationships. Those haven't been brought forward to us at the division. We've been told about how many children, and about there being other wives, but knowing who they are, they don't go by the name."

The goal in the Kingston case, and in most cases, is to create what the state considers to be a healthy, normal family. Something they say can be difficult to do with a polygamous family because technically the father does not live full time with just one family.

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