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Additional hurdle in child removal?

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Child protection and the juvenile courts are decidedly against the idea, but 67 percent of Utahns apparently believe warrants should be obtained before children suspected of being abused can be taken into state custody.

Almost half (46 percent) of Utahns believe warrants "definitely" should be required, and 21 percent say they "probably" should be, according to a new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll.

Legislation is being considered that would make child protection caseworkers seek judicial review of a case for a warrant before removing a child from a home where abuse is suspected but not immediately apparent.

The random survey of 405 people was conducted by Dan Jones and Associates on Dec. 17-20. The sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

Although the state has one of the lowest child removal rates in the country, Rep. Matt Throckmorton, R-Springville, believes another step in the abuse investigation process is necessary to ensure the state doesn't act too quickly in situations that aren't clear-cut emergencies.

That's most cases, Throckmorton said, adding that if it's true that most children taken into state custody are returned within 12 weeks, "then I wonder if they should have been taken in the first place."

The state Attorney General's Office and child welfare administrators say the measure is an unnecessary bureaucratic step.

If workers involved in a case are telling a judge that it's best the child be removed, a judge isn't likely to disagree, said Richard Anderson, director of the state Division of Child and Family Services. Anderson said warrants were required for a time 20 years ago when he was a caseworker. He said he isn't aware of a single instance of a judge going against a recommendation.

Caseworkers by law must already convince a judge that removal was necessary within 72 hours after a child is taken into custody. How many children are returned immediately after those hearings is not known. It happens but it's rare, said Dave Carlson, chief of the attorney general's child protection division.

Utah removes about 18 percent of children in abuse cases. That was the second-lowest rate in the country for the fiscal year that ended June 30. DCFS received 17,630 abuse referral calls last year. Of the 9,480 children involved in cases substantiated by caseworkers, 1,726 were removed from their homes. About a fourth of those were released to a relative or guardian rather than to state foster care within 14 days of removal.

Throckmorton said the measure is needed because it's simply in the best interest of all concerned that there be another chance to consider such an important and traumatic decision.

The legislation is rooted in a parental rights movement that has gained momentum the past year. Throckmorton and other proponents claim the state regularly acts capriciously and needs closer monitoring.

Representatives from juvenile court, which ultimately grants or denies removal decisions, say the proposal is prohibitive financially. Not only would more money have to be spent on judges reviewing cases but court schedules are already overloaded.

E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com