How is Utah’s child welfare system doing?

As we have reported, the Utah Legislature is reviewing an audit of the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.  The Foundation for Government Accountability has just released a report with state rankings based on 11 different child outcomes. The report’s aim is to assess the performance of state child welfare systems.

As the report states, “a top performing child welfare system should respond quickly to allegations of abuse, ensure that kids who are abused are transitioned to a safe and permanent home as quickly as possible (whether through successful reunification or adoption), guarantee that children in out-of-home placements are in safe and supportive home-like settings (foster care or kinship care) with as few placements as possible, and reduce the overall incidence of abuse and, subsequently, the number of children in need of foster care.”

There is good and bad news for Utah in the report. 

The key negative is that Utah has suffered a significant drop of 19 places since 2006 so that it now ranks 20th among the states.

Utah is doing very well in reducing abuse of children in foster care (No. 1 nationally), reuniting children with their biological parents where appropriate (No. 6), and adoptions from foster care (No. 8).

There’s room for improvement in the measures of maltreatment of children (No. 38), decreasing movement of children in foster care (No. 48), stability in foster placements (No. 39), and rapid response to abuse allegations (No. 39).

Policymakers would do well to look at the indicators identified in this report and assess whether they are the right ones, what can be done to improve child outcomes in the various measures, and how to ensure lasting change. It seems clear that to prevent the tragic circumstances in which too many children find themselves, strengthening families should be at the top of that list.