SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Angry legislators, threatening to enact a parental rights law, told state child-protection officials that they have failed to involve parents in abuse investigations when they should have.
"You're usurping parental rights," a red-faced Sen. Al Mansell, R-Sandy, said Tuesday.The legislators were reacting to complaints that children are being secretly interviewed by Division of Child and Family Services caseworkers even in cases where abuse allegations are not directed at parents.
"Your premise is the parent is guilty until proven innocent," House Speaker Marty Stephens told division representatives. "This is as troubling as anything we've had up here. We have to do this differently."
The matter came up because of a complaint by Kay Hatch, wife of Rep. Tom Hatch, R-Panguitch, and secretary of her hometown elementary school.
Kay Hatch said she was distraught because of an incident last April in which three girls were summoned from class and interviewed by two DCFS workers and a law-enforcement officer.
Parents weren't notified despite the fact that the alleged abuse was blamed on a neighborhood boy, and the claims were never substantiated.
Stephens, R-Farr West, suggested lawmakers in January may enact a new "parental rights" statute.
DCFS Deputy Director Richard Anderson said that 80 percent to 85 percent of the 17,000 abuse complaints investigated each year involve allegations against parents. Even legislators acknowledge it is appropriate to interview children without notification of parents in those cases.
Parents are brought in on many of the remaining cases because many times parents are the ones reporting allegations of abuse.