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LEAVITT ADOPTS A NEW PLAN TO IMPROVE FOSTER CARE

Gov. Mike Leavitt wants you.

Leavitt and his wife, Jacalyn, intend to launch a campaign to recruit you as foster parents, volunteers to accompany caseworkers as they take children in state care to appointments, and more.Monday, Leavitt announced a five-point "initiative to improve foster care" during meetings with Division of Family Services staffers in four offices across the state. The meetings follow on the heels of a report released Saturday that gave Family Services mixed reviews on repairing its beleaguered child-welfare system.

"It's been my experience that things always got harder before they got better," Leavitt said. "This is no different."

He promised that 133 new staffers would be hired - 115 of them caseworkers - in time to "hit the streets" by July or August.

Case workers will have new equipment, including dictating machines so they can keep up with the paperwork involved in child protection, Leavitt said. The state will also purchase cellular phones and more laptop computers for workers.

Other state-government departments and divisions will provide immediate assistance to Family Services, said Leavitt. For instance, one of his own staff members will be moving to Human Services to become director of Consumer Affairs. She will be charged with solving complaints.

He announced a "crash program with the private sector to create a new technology-driven reporting system" that will give child-welfare workers access to a centralized data base.

When the Legislature meets in special session Wednesday, Leavitt said he may ask lawmakers to approve $500,000 to hire more caseworkers. And he pointed out that Utah has already added $16 million in new funding to the child welfare system, to be joined by an extra $18 million when the next fiscal year begins in July.

"All of you have the most difficult job in the state," Leavitt told the assembled case workers.

"I think we are making extraordinarily good process. We still have a long way to go."

Tuesday the governor will begin meeting with community organizations, including parent-teacher associations and churches, to ask for help recruiting foster families.