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Leavitt issues call for 3,000 foster families by 2000

Theirs is a regular home made up of two parents, three teenagers, chores, school and the like.

In a tree-shaded house on a cul-de-sac in northwest Salt Lake City, David and Stephanie Doner are rearing foster children. They have had six teenage boys in their home since they started offering foster care last year. They love them, David Doner said, and seeing them make good, mature decisions is like no other reward the 31-year-old man has known.On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Leavitt thanked the Doners and the other 950 foster families in the state. Then he asked for 2,000 more.

The Utah Child Welfare Foundation is being created to help train, recruit and support foster families, Leavitt said. The goal is for 3,000 foster families by the year 2000.

With 2,350 Utah children in foster care, there are simply not enough homes. Ken Patterson, director of the Department of Child and Family Services, said if there are no homes available, a child ends up in a group home or a residential center.

"We have fine centers, but everyone's preference is that they are cared for at the family level," Patterson said.

More options mean DCFS would have more room to place children in racially and geographically appropriate placements.

The private, nonprofit foundation won't be implemented until after March 15, said Lt. Gov. Olene Walker. Though it will take some time to recruit more than 2,000 new foster parents, the foundation will help meet one of Leavitt's goals for the huge volunteer rally scheduled for today.

The Volunteer Summit-Utah Promise has five major goals, one of which is to have a caring adult in the life of every Utah child.

Leavitt said the state especially needs more foster homes for minority children, those who are medically fragile and teenagers.

Most of the recruitment and training for foster families now done by the Department of Child and Family Services will be transferred to the foundation. The foundation will also work with civil groups, advocates and churches to find possible foster families.

"People respond to those to whom they pay their offerings and tithes and not just people they pay their taxes," Leavitt said.

Leavitt said he's already met with rabbis, priests and bishops telling them these children are from their congregations and need help from the church community.

Utah first lady Jackie Leavitt said there is also room for those who can't be foster parents but who could give a few hours a week tutoring a child or helping a caseworker.

David Doner said he was a bit nervous when he and Stephanie first thought about becoming foster parents, but the rewards are huge.

One of their former foster children has since turned 18 and gone into an independent living situation. "To see him able to hold a job and be a great community member, that is such a reward," he said.

For more information on how to become a foster parent, call 1-800-250-SERV.