Utah officials discuss progress of child welfare

Wednesday , July 01, 2015 - 8:54 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY – Legislators met to discuss recent progress in Utah for child welfare.

Lawmakers referred to David C., a federal lawsuit filed against Utah in 1993, as the case that initiated changes in welfare practices in the state. Lee Killian, the associate general counsel at the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, feels Utah’s focus on child welfare brought about “such a dramatic change that Utah started to be nationally recognized for its practices.”

Utah failed compliance with child welfare standards and required judicial oversight until the federal government dismissed the David C. case in 2008.

The committee focused on the success of child welfare-related bills that passed during the 2015 legislative session. Gregg Girvan, a policy analyst with the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, explained 13 bills dealing with child welfare passed this session.

Four bills the panel supported did not pass. Girvan explained all four bills “simply did not work through the legislative process completely.” The bills were not defeated, he said. “These are issues that could very well come up in the interim or next sessions,” he said.

Girvan focused on the following bills to illustrate the 2015 session’s success:

• House Bill 39, sponsored by Rep. Jonny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, which amends emergency placement of children to allows the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) to place a child with a designated friend or the adoptive parent of a sibling.

• HB 139, sponsored by Rep. Bradley Daw, R-Orem, which amended the definition of a foster home and raised the limits from three to four children to a home for licensed foster parents. It also allows for more in cases where siblings came stay together.

• Senate Bill 103, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, which amends reporting on child abuse and neglect.

• House Joint Resolution 12, sponsored by Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, which designates November as “Homeless and Runaway Youth Awareness Month.”

Brent Platt, the director of Utah’s child welfare agency, presented four issues for the panel to consider for further discussion. First he presented the need to extend foster care beyond age 18. Platt explained a judge currently can extend foster care to 21 in certain circumstances. However he feels they can do more. “Whether they leave at 18 or 21, if they’re not ready, they’re not ready,” he said. He feels offering assistive services and involving the community will better prepare children to life on their own.

Platt also brought an issue forward with foster children who want a driver’s license at 16. The panel discussed insurance costs as well as the importance for the children to have a government ID. Rep. Jonny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, believes the issue with a driver’s license “covers much more than just driving.” The panel will continue the debate in future meetings.

Finally Platt discussed mental health and substance abuse cases involving foster children as well as education neglect in local school districts. He presented both ideas for debate to discuss what intervention role the DCFS will provide in such situations.

Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, the panel’s chair, acknowledged many of the issues the panel discussed came from a group of foster children who spoke at a recent meeting. “It gives us a better reality touch when they come and tell us their stories,” Christensen said referring to meeting the foster children. He advocated arranging another time for children to present issues they struggle to overcome.

Mark Andrews, also a policy analyst with the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, credits the Child Welfare Legislative Oversight Panel for the significant changes.

He named eight points where the panel has excelled in progressive child welfare programs.

1. Focused on consent decree and monitoring implementation of best practices.

2. Developed a proper level of intervention with child welfare cases.

3. Found the proper balance with children’s safety and parental rights.

4. Improved outcomes for children in child welfare cases.

5. Supported foster and adoptive parents.

6. Focused on funding.

7. Addressed rights of implicated perpetrators.

8. Has been self-assessing and self-correcting.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.