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Utah wants to help more kids at home and reduce foster care placements

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Lukes Dad's picture
on Fri, 07/13/2012 - 12:29
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SALT LAKE CITY — Fewer Utah children would be placed in foster homes under an ongoing effort to strengthen in-home services provided by the Division of Child and Family Services, a sought-after change in the state's care of children.

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.

Those troubling numbers prompted a change in approach.

DCFS director Brent Platt Wednesday came before the state's Child Welfare Legislative Oversight panel to tell lawmakers that the state is shifting some resources and developing tools to identify the best services for children who can safely remain in their own homes.

Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, chairwoman of the panel, said the approach is encouraging.

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

During fiscal year 2011, 1,926 children entered the foster care system in Utah, according to DCFS figures.

The use of in-home services can result in better outcomes for children and are less expensive than removing a child from their home and into foster care. But the change means caseworkers will need to make more home visits, which could require a change in the way DCFS is funded, Platt said.

Pulling fewer children out of homes "takes partnerships with communities. We as a division don't magically create the services these kids will need," Platt said.

While the 2011 audit showed more reliance on out-of-home foster care placements, it also spotlighted that funding for in-home services had decreased over a five-year period. Those services are fully funded by the state's General Fund while out-of-home placements are funded with state and federal dollars.

The division plans to seek a federal waiver to give it greater flexibility with funds, Platt said, allowing it to enhance at-home programs.

Platt also reported that the division has reduced its reliance on "congregate care" in group homes in the Salt Lake Valley and northern Utah, DCFS's largest regions.

"These are the least desirable placements. We only want to use these placements when there is a dire need," Platt said.

Marjorie Cortez


mfhorn's picture

Good on the mormons for leading the way against corruption in CPS.