It's a myth that children in Utah have no rights.
Their rights - and responsibilities - are detailed in a resource book released during a news conference Wednesday by Utah Children and the Utah State Bar Needs of Children Committee.In a clear, readable format, the 147-page "Rights, Responsibilities, Relationships: Your Rights as a Young Person in Utah" tackles the laws that protect children in the community, the family, employment, schools, foster care, institutional care and the courts.
"We know that parents struggle with what their children go through," said Roz McGee, director of Utah Children. "This book is in simple language with straightforward answers. But it doesn't give all the answers."
The book, in fact, acknowledges areas where Utah's laws are unclear, subject to different interpretations or possibly even vulnerable to constitutional challenges.
It is a good starting place for families as children face different situations, McGee said.
One chapter, for example, tells what the public education system must provide for children and explains under what circumstances a child can be suspended, what he or she should do to challenge a decision and more.
The book also contains how-not-to information, outlining both things children can and cannot legally do.
"You have independent rights outside the family that involve your personal liberty and freedom," says the introduction. "While your right to independence and protection is essential, your understanding of your responsibility in decisions you make is also important. You have constitutional rights that protect you if you get into trouble with the law, although they are not as strong as the rights given to adults. In addition, the Constitution protects your right to act lawfully."
The book is designed for children, parents, counselors, principals, social workers and the general public, according to McGee. It was compiled by more than 50 people who talked to students to find out what information they needed, consulted (or were themselves) experts on the various issues and advocates for youths.
The project, originally expected to take nine months, took almost 18 because the authors wanted to include the most up-to-date information. The book includes Utah laws that were passed during the last legislative session, like the child welfare reform act.
"We hope this book will be accurate for 18 to 36 months before it needs to be updated," McGee said.
Donations from four sources - the Dr. Ezekial R. and Edna Wattis Dumke Foundation, the Mattie Wattis Harris Foundation, the George and Delores Dore Eccles Foundation and the Utah Bar Foundation - paid for the project and a 3,000-copy printing run. Copies will be distributed (for $8 each or at lower bulk-order rates) through Utah Children. Some copies will be made available to families who cannot afford to buy them. But McGee said more funding will be needed if the book is to reach the majority of Utahns who need it.
Besides containing information on such topics as a youth's rights during an adoption, when seeking medical care, as a teen parent or in foster care, the book also contains a chapter on where to go for help and summaries and citations of Utah law so that people can easily look up the full legal record.
For information on obtaining the book, call 364-1182.