Summarized by Rosemary Pollock
Despite LDS Church's Call, Utah Short of Foster Parents
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints placed a call to action urging its members and families to
volunteer for the Utah Foster Care Foundation. Currently, Utah has
about one-third of the 6,000 foster families that are needed. A
budget deficit in the state Division of Child and Family Services has
prompted a call for an audit of the division and the Utah Foster Care
Gov. Mike Leavitt coined the phrase "3,000 by 2000" in his January, 1998
State of the State speech. Since then, the number of foster families has
increased from 238 to 1,256 during a period when 4,356 new foster care cases
were opened. Approximately 3,000 LDS families inquired, but only 10 percent
actually enrolled in the required training program with about half dropping
out before completion.
Vicki Varela, Leavitt's spokeswoman said, "Progress is being made. There
are ways to cut turnover of foster families and there are enough people in
the pipeline to meet that new goal." Michelle Chang, a San Francisco
attorney for the National Center for Youth Law sees Utah as having always
had a difficult time attracting and keeping foster parents. The lack of
quality foster care was the key element in a 1993 class action lawsuit that
was filed by the center against the state.
"Lack of placement options has been highlighted, and probably aggravated, by
the division's recent budget deficits," Chang said. The state is in the
process of making up the $8.9 million budget shortfall. The foundation
overspent its $2.5 million budget by $500,00 last year and currently is
cutting back the staff by one-fourth.
Dallis Pierson, president of the Utah Foster Care Foundation defended the
layoffs. "These were good people, but I and the board decided this was the
most fiscally responsible approach." Pierson does not see the law center's
standard as realistic for Utah. With many of the foster children being
siblings and being placed together, they are often placed with relatives who
currently are not required to be licensed foster care families. Between
October 1, 1999 and September 30 of this year, 28 percent of Utah's foster
children were placed with relatives.
"My expectation is that in the next year, once we get to between 1,800 and
2,000 families, we will have those three possible options for every case,"
Pierson said. Foster Care Foundation governing board member Roz McGee said
the benefits of children remaining with relatives allows the children to
maintain important family contacts. There is less emotional trauma.
Ron DeMill and his wife Christine have been foster caregivers for nearly
five years. They have opted out of the program for several reasons. The
$l3-per day/per-child supplement received from the state was insufficient to
take care of the children's needs. "The kids would arrive with a small
plastic grocery sack full of their belongings.....we would take them
shopping and get them a few nice outfits, personal hygiene [items] and a few
toys," De Mill said. "This would run into hundreds of dollars, which we
sometimes had to wait several months to be reimbursed for." At one time,
they had five foster children in their care, from seven days to l7-years-old.
Utah Has Foster Care Shortage
Salt Lake Tribune 29Oct00 T2
By James Thalman: Salt Lake Tribune