Foster Care in Utah has changed a lot over the past few years. The system looks very different than it once did for both the children in it as well as the foster parent providing care and the birth parents working to be reunited with their loved ones. Though each and every case is unique, the system does its best to make the process as painless as possible for all those involved. The goal of the Utah Foster Care System is reunification, keeping families together, and making sure those involved are healthy and safe. Though adoption through the foster care system happens due to other circumstances, the main goal is for the child to go home to family members. Keep this in mind as you move forward in your foster care journey.
To start, all foster children come from The Division of Child and Family Services after a child has been determined to be in imminent danger from law enforcement. In 2017, the Utah Division of Child and Family Services reported that 47 percent of reported abuse was neglect, 26 percent was sexual abuse, 23 percent was physical abuse, 17 percent was domestic violence, 5 percent was other, and 1 percent was medical neglect. Removing a child from his or her home is always a last resort due to the trauma it inflicts on the child. Such drastic actions will only take place if abuse is not just suspected but confirmed from eyewitness reports and other investigations.
In-Home Services are usually offered if a parent is suspected of neglecting or abusing a child. These services range from counseling services, housing assistance, daycare services, access to food and clothing banks, parenting and child safety classes, and many others. These services are offered in an attempt to help families stay together and teach parents how to ensure the best life possible for their children. If In-Home Services are not found to be effective, are refused, or if the parent(s) do not comply with the requirements needed to have access to those services, or if the child is found to be in imminent danger, then the child may be removed from the home.
As a child, this experience is extremely traumatic. Children are given a bag and are told to put everything they wish to take with them in it by a stranger. When their bags are packed, they are taken from their home and family to a strange house with more strangers and told that these are the people they will be living with from now on. They suddenly are living in a new house, with new rules, new habits, and new people. Their school and any other activities they participated in will change or disappear altogether. While there are many wonderful foster families out there, it is still a very disorienting time for them.
In Utah, DCFS contracts out to several foster care agencies to find appropriate placements for children based on their specific needs and situation. Utah Foster Care is the most widely known and used foster care agency, serving children of all ages. Turning Point Family Care tends to specialize in children and teens suffering from mental health problems. Utah Youth Village specializes in children with more extreme behavioral problems, particularly teens. These and many of the other foster agencies in Utah work together to ensure that the foster child and the foster parent(s) are the most ideal matchup possible for the child.
As a foster parent who has undergone hours of training, questioning, and inspections, this is the day you have probably been waiting for. The time when you are finally able to share your affection and home with a child in need. It is important to be aware that these children have already been abused in at least one way; otherwise, they would not have been taken into state custody. These children have also just been ripped away from the home and family they have known. They will be upset, and each child will react differently to the stress. Do not be surprised if the child initially shows no interest in being close to you or shows no gratitude for the things you offer them. The transition period can be extremely difficult. In order to make the transition easier, children are reunited with their birth parents as quickly as possible following the initial separation. This has been found to comfort the child as well as the birth parents and make the possibility of permanent reunion possible.
Soon a plan will be put in place for the children to be reunited with their families. These plans mostly center around the birth family following a set of guidelines or a program to improve their circumstances and/or themselves to a point where their homes are safe and healthy places for children.
Foster parents play key roles in the rehabilitation of both the children and the parents. Many birth parents appreciate foster parents that are more than just emotionally invested in their children, but willing to offer advice to them as well. Being open to assisting and supporting the birth parents will be the best way to help the foster care system reunite families. Each case is unique, and supporting birth parents may not always be an option, but being willing to do so will ensure that you can be the best foster parent you can be.
Generally, birth parents are given a time limit to meet the requirements required by the state courts to regain custody of their children. It is generally a year and a half to two years, though many DCFS Social Workers are willing to extend that time if the parent is making a real effort. Once that time has passed, the birth parents may lose their parental rights. At that point, the child will become eligible for adoption through the Utah State Foster System.
Though the goal of foster care is reunification, according to the Utah Division of Child and Family Services in 2017, 705 children were adopted through the foster care system (See page 7). Adoption through Utah State Foster Care is a very affordable option since many of the court, lawyer, and legal fees can be waived or reimbursed by the State itself and other organizations who support adoption.
The role of foster parents is to care for displaced children and support the process of reunification. In the event that reunification is not possible, adoption of children in the foster care system is possible. Utah has one of the highest rated foster care systems in the nation due to the rigorous training and qualifications required of its foster parents as well as its focus on family and reunification as soon as possible.