TEXARKANA Arkansas child-welfare officials recommended Monday that the parental rights of two more fathers who are members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries be terminated, a move that would clear the men’s children to be put up for adoption, an advocate for the parents said Monday.
During hearings at the Juvenile Court Center in Texarkana, attorneys for the Arkansas Department of Human Services asked Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin to terminate the legal rights of ministry member Don Thorne with respect to a teenage son who is in foster care, said Cheryl Barnes, a litigation specialist with the CPS Watch Legal Team, which is assisting the parents in their child-welfare cases. Griffin heard arguments on the issue Monday but did not immediately issue a ruling.
The Human Services Department also recommended that ministry member Greg Seago lose his legal rights with respect to his two sons, Barnes said. A hearing on the issue was set for Jan. 26.
The men’s sons are among 36 ministry children who have been placed in foster care since a Sept. 20, 2008, raid by federal and state authorities on the ministry’s compound in Fouke. Tony Alamo, the ministry’s 75-year-old leader, was convicted in July of taking five underage girls across state lines for sex. He is to be sentenced on Nov. 13 in U.S. District Court in Texarkana.
Griffin and Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson have ruled that ministry children are endangered by practices that include allowing underage marriages and punishing misbehavior with beatings. At hearings in November and January, the judges said the parents can eventually be reunited with their children, but only if the parents move off church property and find jobs outside the ministry.
Neither Seago nor Thorne have met the conditions in the judge’s orders, Barnes said. Ministry members generally work at jobs in the ministry or at ministry-controlled businesses in exchange for food, housing and other necessities.
The men’s sons, then ages 13, 10 and 12, were taken into protective custody, along with 17 other children, in a Nov. 18 sweep of ministry properties in Fouke, Texarkana and Fort Smith.
The Human Services Department is continuing to search for two of Thorne’s other children - a girl and a boy. In January, Griffin held Thorne in contempt of court and ordered him jailed after he refused to provide information about where those children are. He was released in August.
Seago also has a 15-year old daughter in foster care. At a Sept. 1 hearing, the Human Services Department recommended that the girl remain in foster care and receive help with her educational expenses and establishing independence.
The children’s mother, Gina Howard, left the church about nine years ago. It wasn’t immediately known what the department recommended regarding her parental rights. Howard’s attorney, Pamela Fisk, declined to comment, citing a gag order in the case. Proceedings in child-welfare cases are closed to the public.
Attorney Phillip Kuhn of Lakeland, Fla., who is representing Seago and Thorne, also declined to comment. Griffin has briefed reporters about other hearings, but a Miller County sheriff’s deputy said Griffin would have no comment Monday.
Human Services Department spokesman Julie Munsell also declined to comment on the hearing, but she said that the department generally recommends that parental rights be terminated when parents are not meeting the conditions set out by a judge to be reunited with their children.
“The reason we do that is to obtain permanency for those children,” Munsell said. “It’s not intended for them to languish in the system. They’re intended to be reunited or adopted.”
When a child is adopted by someone outside the child’s biological family, parents whose rights have been terminated typically do not have access to information about who the adoptive parents are and do not have any visitation rights, Munsell said.
The department has also recommended that the parental rights of church member Alphonso Reid Sr. be terminated regarding his daughter, who was 10 when she was placed in foster care last year, but a hearing has not been held on the matter, Barnes said.
Three other ministry families have hearings scheduled in Griffin’s court this week. Among the matters Griffin will consider is a petition by the Human Services Department asking him to take action to protect a boy born to ministry members Carlos and Sophia Parrish in June. Griffin will also consider long-term goals for the Parrishes' children as well as those of two other couples.