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Letters unfair to alleged abusers

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In an offensive and inefficient reversal to the notion of innocent until proven guilty, nearly 10,000 Utahns will soon receive notice they are in the state's database as potential threats to children. For many, the letter will be their first inkling of such allegations, an unfortunate and unfair way to be told the news.

The letters are the result of 200,000 records of child abuse allegations collected by Utah's Division of Child and Family Services over the past 10 years. Names were placed on that list whether charges were verified or not, leading state officials to fear an explosion of potential litigation.This year's Legislature agreed and ordered the division to overhaul the database and notify the people whose names appeared. By next spring, two databases will exist: one for child-welfare caseworkers and another for the licensing divisions of the departments of Health and Human Services. That database will be used to determine whether people can be child-care workers and foster parents. Those who ignore the letters will be placed on both databases.

A better option is for innocent parties to appeal to the state's Department of Human Services, which will arrange for an administrative hearing by Dec. 1. Everyone who receives notice has a right of appeal and should exercise it if innocent. It may be in the accused's best interest to have an attorney in tow, an unfortunate and expensive inconvenience.

Instead of blanket notification now, there should have been resources provided to go through the records and determine which alleged incidents had validity and which did not. The current approach carries an enormous potential for detrimental and unnecessary fallout. Letters coming out of the blue could be devastating to people and divisive to families.

DCFS board chairman Scott Clark was rightfully critical of the hasty deadline and lack of fiscal support. "Those two factors have created this nightmare."

For the innocent who are held guilty until proven otherwise, it is a nightmare indeed - one created by hasty legislation not properly thought through or fiscally supported.