By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Emma Tutt remembers perfectly the day police came to rip her family apart. She was standing outside their Duncanville home wondering at a flock of birds that had descended on the yard in front of her. It was a warm afternoon a week before Thanksgiving, and she thought it was strange the birds picked this particular patch of magnolia-shaded dirt to alight upon.
Emma, 10, ran inside to fetch James, 8, her adopted brother. The five other kids in Christina and Trevor Tutt's home had a stomach bug and were too ill to go outside. One, like Emma, was the Tutts' by birth; two were adopted; and two were being cared for semi-permanently through informal agreements with their parents.
James and Emma ran back outside, spooking the flock, which flew off in a noisy flutter. They sat, wondering what to do next, when three Dallas County constable cars pulled up. An officer emerged from each, one of them holding a sheaf of papers. Sensing something awful, she shrieked and darted inside, calling frantically for her mom, James close at her heels.
Christina Tutt didn't have to ask her kids what was wrong. Two months before, the Tutts had been caring for a group of five siblings, all 7 years old or younger, to help their mother get back on her feet, when a 4-year-old slipped outside through the dog door. Duncanville police found him wandering a half-mile from home, barefoot and grimy, and referred the case to Child Protective Services.
It was the fourth time in 11 months the child-welfare agency had investigated the Tutts. The first three cases — allegations of neglect by the Tutts and of sexual abuse of two children by older siblings — had been closed with no finding of neglect or abuse, and Christina expected the same this time. Her house was reasonably clean, the kids reasonably healthy. There was no evidence of abuse, nor any clear indication of neglect. The caseworker investigating the latest incident had been concerned that 13 children were living in the home, but the five siblings had returned to their mother. A sixth child the Tutts were caring for on behalf of a homeless mother had been placed in foster care, winnowing their brood to a more manageable seven. She had heard nothing from CPS for three weeks, suggesting to her that she'd been cleared.
And yet here was a constable serving her with a removal order. She protested but knew she couldn't fight a court order, so she helped the sick kids change out of their pajamas, then watched as all seven left in squad cars.
Suddenly, after 25 uninterrupted years of having young children in her home, she realized her nest was empty.
"It's like being awake but being dead," she says, trying to explain what that felt like. "It's like being dead but being alive. Does that make sense?"
The state of Texas isn't quite sure what to make of the Tutts. Their Christian faith has led them to open their home to kids from truly awful circumstances. They've taken in the children of homeless drug addicts and jailed murder suspects, helping out an overburdened child welfare system, and often with the state's blessing.
But not all those kids have come to the Tutts through official channels, and the couple's methods and the sheer number of children cycling through their home have raised red flags among CPS caseworkers and courts charged with looking out for child welfare.
For their part, the Tutts don't have much faith in the government's ability to look after the best interests of the children it's supposed to protect. The couple used to be licensed foster parents but ultimately chose to bypass the CPS-approved foster system. At times this meant going through religious nonprofits that connect distressed families with homes offering long-term childcare. Sometimes it meant connecting with the mothers directly, through church parenting classes or homeless shelters. The number of kids in their care has sometimes crept into the double digits, reaching 13 in the months before CPS intervened.
Their skepticism toward the state extends to its public schools. Almost all the kids entering the Tutt home are home schooled, and that fact has added a political edge to the Tutts' battle with CPS.
Christina is the family's motive force, a peppy 46-year-old, perpetually caffeinated by the 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola she generally keeps at hand. She has olive skin and typically wears her brown hair pulled tight into a hasty ponytail. Every drop of her energy is poured into her family, and sometimes that shows as bags beneath her eyes.
Trevor, 48, has the softness of a shy teddy bear. Tall with sunken eyes, he is the introverted half of the couple, always happy to let Christina do the talking. He works as an architectural draftsman in Hillsboro and uses the hour-long commute home to decompress before evenings devoted to the kids. He would never have taken it upon himself to rescue children, but he's a willing passenger. When Christina shows up at home with a strange infant on either hip, he doesn't object and offers whatever help he can give.
Look, this family isn't being targeted for homeschooling their children. They're being investigated for not following the rules (laws) for acquiring their ever growing number of children. There are legal ways to do things and this family isn't doing them. OF COURSE CPS is going to get involved. Why wouldn't they?? As a homeschooler of four and a wife to a CPS investigator I can tell you that here in the part of Texas I live in CPS doesn't just go around picking up homeschool kids, ripping then away from their families, and drop them off in foster care. This woman is collecting kids. I'm all for opening one's home to hurting children (we do!), but there's a right and a wrong way to do it. This woman isn't doing it the right way and she's finding out there's consequences for it.
Some people hoard animals. This Tutt lady hoards animals AND kids. And, I find it hard to believe that, with 13 kids and 5 or 6 pets, her home was anywhere even close to "remotely clean."
When I first saw this story break, I told people: "there MUST be more to the story". Looks like I might have been correct.
This reminds me of stories about dog rescuers, which I sometimes find perplexing. But this is about children, and is on the edges of conflict between disturbed individuals and inefficient bureaucracies. It's unclear if any of the parties involved have provided effectively for the children's long term care and development. At least the dog rescuers almost always do that.
@bvckvs Have you seen what happens to most children in the CPS system? The loving family thing is mostly a myth for all but the most desirable kids.
No. I am saying that there are massive flaws in the system, and that the only real answer is to take each case and each child as an individual and let the children go where they have the best chance. Unfortunately that leaves most mixed race, black, or drug damaged children at the mercy of the system until they age out. I don't know of a good answer, but putting children with someone who actually cares about them, regardless of politics, would be a start.