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New law puts DCFS to the test
Board must design new guidelines on foster care, adoption

The Division of Child and Family Services board took its first stab Friday at wrestling with some of the issues it will face in establishing new rules for adoption and foster parenting, based on recently passed legislation that bars same-sex couples from adopting or becoming foster parents.

About the only things clear at this preliminary stage are that the board doesn't want subjective policies that will require case workers to determine if a couple is involved in a sexual relationship and secondly, they don't want to disturb any existing adoption or foster care situations.Because of a lack to date of any drafts on proposed Division of Child and Family Services policy changes, the board doesn't expect to really get in to the implementation level until its next board meeting at the end of March.

"We need to design something," board Chairman Scott Clark said, explaining that means getting some legal advice, too.

Board member Virginia Higbee agreed. "Time is important, but let's not ramrod this," she said.

Clark said the board has until May 1 to initiate the new adoption measure, approved by the Legislature March 1. The legislation will bar unmarried couples, including gays and lesbians, from being adoptive or foster parents. However, the bill does not prevent single people from adopting, and the bill defines "living together" as being involved in a sexual relationship.

"We should not go out and change existing placement in anticipation," Clark warned.

Steven Clark, representing the American Civil Liberties Union, raised the question of how the board will verify if unmarried people are involved in a sexual relationship.

Clark said the board does need a policy on that matter, though it isn't yet prepared to address the issue properly.

Higbee said she hopes the board can avoid policies that would foster hasty presumptions of sexual relationships to preclude adoption or foster parenting under the new law.

Board member Steve Bradford said the application form for adoption and foster care will also have to be changed to match the new legislation. Besides drafting new policies, the board also will have to repeal non-conforming sections.

Utah is the only state to have approved legislation precluding gay and lesbian couples from both adopting and foster parenting. However, Mississippi, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Hawaii are considering similar laws.

Besides wanting children to be reared in homes with both a mother and father, Utah lawmakers hope the law will shut the door leading to legalization of same-sex marriages in the state.

The board also reviewed a seven-page package of legislative bills passed during the recent session that could affect the DCFS. Other than the adoptive measure, most others simply formalize many policies the department already is using and are not likely to lead to other major revisions.