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Utah Moves Toward Keeping Families Together, Relying Less on Foster Care

923461-300x197More Utah children will stay with their families instead of entering foster care under a new plan announced by the state’s Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The change was prompted by an audit of DCFS that showed a troubling trend. The Deseret News reports:

A state legislative audit in 2011 revealed a 38 percent increase in Utah foster care placements during the previous decade. The audit also showed that the number of families that received in-home support that enabled children to stay in their homes decreased by 40 percent over the same time period.

The apparent connection between soaring foster care placements and reduced in-home support for families led DCFSdirector Brent Platt to announce a shift in resources to keep children at home when they can remain there safely. In doing so, the state will also develop tools to identify the best services to help keep those families together:

Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, chairwoman of the [Child Welfare Legislative Oversight] panel, said the approach is encouraging.

“One of our goals as a Legislature is to keep families together whenever possible,” she said.

Even though keeping children with their families is less expensive for the state than foster care, the 2011 audit showed a decrease in funding for in-home services over a five-year period.

Platt’s decision to change course is promising, but the state still needs reliable foster homes, thanks in part to more aggressive enforcement of drug laws that has led to an increase in foster care placements. However, Utah’s ability to recruit new foster parents has been limited by the state’s own policies:

A 2007 report said inadequate foster care rates “negatively affect foster parent recruitment and retention.”

Utah’s daily reimbursement rates range from $14.68 a day to $27.87. Although the state funds some supplemental services and items, most families end up paying children’s care out of pocket, said Happie Larson, a licensed foster parent in Davis County.

“The reality is, people don’t do it for money,” Platt said. “These are people who want to help children, to give back to their communities.”

Larson, a former foster child herself, has adopted 15 children with her husband, Richard, and echoes Platt’s sentiments on foster care:

“Even if they didn’t give me a single dollar a day, I’d still do it,” Larson said.

“You want to give them a chance at a typical life and you’re trying to do that on $15 a day?” Larson said. “We spend more to kennel a dog than to care for a child. What is the message that sends to a child?”