clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Kingston case prompts investigation of DCFS

The head of Utah's child welfare agency has asked for an independent review of how his administrators handled the controversial Kingston polygamy case, citing concerns brought to him over communication and objectivity.

A probe of the case by the Office of Child Protection Ombudsman is scheduled to be completed this week at the request of Richard Anderson, director of the Division of Child and Family Services.

"There were so many questions that came up because of the complexity of the situation. People were concerned about the objectivity there," Anderson told the Deseret Morning News. "If people believe there is a need for an independent review, I will ask people from the outside to take a look."

Anderson said he made the request some time ago after hearing about a number of issues.

"There were concerns about different levels of administration, the decisions being made."

Sources close to the Kingston case said complaints included allegations that certain top-level DCFS officials have been hesitant to investigate reports of abuse and neglect against members of the polygamist Kingston clan.

Anderson said the complaints he heard were not based so much on a "slow-moving" agency or reluctance, but rather a lack of communication and concerns about the administrative processes working effectively.

"In a general sense, if you have an administrative process that is not working for you, if I can't see exactly what the problem is, I will have an independent party take a look. Even if I do come to a conclusion, it is good to have outside review."

A 3rd District judge in June ruled that Kingston abused his children and that their mother, Heidi Mattingly, failed to protect the children from that abuse. Last week, Juvenile Court Judge Andrew Valdez removed 10 of the couple's 11 children from the home and ordered Mattingly to live at a domestic violence shelter with the couple's 3-month-old daughter.

Rare move

From the outset, the handling of the case has involved some procedural departures in how most cases are handled in juvenile court, particularly by DCFS.

Both Anderson and the head of Utah's Office of the Guardian Ad Litem, Kristen Brewer, say it is unusual for her office — assigned by the courts to act independently in a child's best interest — to pursue a petition of abuse or neglect, yet that is what happened in the Kingston case.

"We said, 'If you're not going to, we think one needs to be filed,' " Brewer said of her conversation with DCFS officials. "That's fairly uncommon. Often, we get appointed because they filed a petition."

Anderson agreed, adding that the "rare" move on the part of Brewer's office generally stems from the two agencies disagreeing on a course of action to be taken in a child abuse or neglect case.

As an example, DCFS may propose additional services in the home, while the guardian ad litem's office might prefer to remove a child immediately.

"If they disagree with our conclusion, instead of us filing, they may decide to go ahead and pursue it," Anderson said.

Historically, DCFS officials have pursued and filed abuse petitions against members of the Kingston clan for abuses ranging from dirty homes to physical neglect. That all changed in February, when DCFS officials did not substantiate abuse claims on two separate occasions.

On Feb. 22, a Salt Lake County deputy sheriff filed a police report that detailed "extremely filthy and unsanitary conditions" at the Kingston/Mattingly home. The report said the home was littered with spoiled food and dirty diapers.

"It's the worst case of neglect and abuse I've ever seen," Salt Lake County Sheriff's deputy Cynthia Archuleta said.

That report was handed over to DCFS, which did not substantiate the abuse or neglect claim.

Slow to act?

In another incident — the one that wound up in 3rd District Court with a judge's ruling of abuse, DCFS again did not pursue the allegations, the guardian ad litem's office did.

That petition stemmed from a February incident when Kingston threatened two of his teenage daughters for piercing their ears. Two of the couple's daughters, ages 13 and 16, told police they were afraid of their father, who threatened to rip out their earrings for going against his wishes.

That incident led to further investigation of abuses in the home. Kingston's 13-year-old daughter told police her father beat her, her mother and her siblings and forced the children to eat rotten food he dug out of the garbage, drink spoiled milk — and worse.

Aside from questions raised about DCFS's reluctance to pursue the Kingstons, critics also claim the agency has bent over backward with the Kingston family, delivering home services for an inordinate amount of time.

DCFS has provided services off and on to the Kingston/Mattingly family for 54 months, according to testimony in open court.

"If this was any other family, these kids would have been yanked out of the home," Andrea Moore-Emmett, president of the Utah chapter of the National Organization for Women, said. "DCFS doesn't want to take on the polygamy thing. They know once they open that lid, they are going to have a flood."

Even Anderson concedes the many months of services is "unusual." Anderson said typically in-home services are provided for about a year to families, or even just six months.

Children removed before

At least one of Kingston and Mattingly's children has been removed from the home three times in the past 10 years.

In 1994, DCFS workers were summoned to Mattingly's home after a referral of non-supervision and neglect due to the "filthy and endangering home environment," according to court documents. Mattingly received services at that time after DCFS substantiated the abuse claims, but the children were allowed to stay in the home.

Two years later, the children were removed from the home and placed in kinship homes after one of Mattingly and Kingston's children repeatedly showed up to school tired because she baby-sat late at night. A 2nd District judge later ruled Mattingly neglected her children and ordered that the children be placed temporarily in state custody.

A 3rd District Court judge in 2001 ruled that Mattingly and Kingston's children were "living in squalor" and that the couple's now-16-year-old daughter was an abused child. The girl was removed from the home at that time.

DCFS referrals of abuse have been made on at least two other of Kingston's polygamist wives, according to court documents.