On Wednesday, June 20th, the Judiciary Interim Committee of the Legislature will hear testimony about the appropriate balance between protecting children at risk in their homes and preserving families. The study is part of an important bill, House Bill 161, approved in the 2012 session.
It appears the discussion will be centered on a careful audit of the state’s Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS). That audit raises some important questions and makes valuable recommendations. For instance:
- “[S]ome DCFS staff told us the division has a broader definition of what constitutes abuse and neglect than other states. Consequently, the division may investigate more cases and have a higher number of supported findings than the national average because it applies a different policy than intended by the Legislature. DCFS should ensure its Administrative Rule definitions are consistent with statute so that limited resources are directed toward those cases intended by the Legislature.”
- About 30 percent of the DCFS budget comes from federal funds. “However, the majority of federal funding is currently reserved for out-of-home services (foster care) and cannot be used for prevention or reunification services or supports. States can access dollars under Federal Title IV-E, the principal source of federal child welfare funding, only after children have been removed from their home and enter foster care.”
- “The ratio of in-home cases to foster care cases has decreased dramatically in the past decade. This trend is concerning because research shows that children are best served and permanency outcomes are better when children can safely remain with their natural families. Also, the cost of foster care is higher than the cost of in-home services, increasing expense to the state. With reductions in in-home services, more children are being placed in foster care. To stop this growth in foster care placements, the division should begin providing more in-home services to reduce future removals and return children to the home as quickly as possible.”
Utah’s public policy clearly recognizes that parents usually act in the best interests of their children, and preserving family ties (including extended family when parents are not living up to their responsibilities) is usually the best protection for children. The DCFS audit provides some important recommendations for ensuring that this policy is carried out faithfully and as effectively as possible.