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Utahns favor foster-care limit

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Legislators planning to remove the limit on the number of children in a state foster family are at odds with 70 percent of Utahns, a new statewide survey shows.

More than half of those polled say the state "definitely" should keep its rule prohibiting more than six children per foster family; 18 percent say the state "probably" should, according to the results of a Deseret News/KSL-Television survey of 405 Utahns.

Saying the rule smacks of government dictating the size of the ideal family, a legislative committee voted in November to eliminate the rule.

"The whole issue of telling people how many kids they can have in their homes I find so offensive I can hardly stand it," said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who brought the issue to the Legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee.

If the recommendation is approved by the 2002 Legislature, Utah would become the only state without a limit on the size of foster families.

Exceptions to the rule can be obtained by foster homes, which annually have about 2,100 children statewide in their care. In the past 12 months, 265 variances of the family size rule were requested, and all but four were granted, according to foster care administrators.

The limit in no way suggests how big families should be; it's a quality of care issue, said Becky Oakley, a foster parent and chairwoman of the state Division of Child and Family Services governing board.

Children in foster care are not like children who have grown up as family members, Oakley said. They have been abused or witnessed it and often need much more supervision than other children in the family, who are also affected when a foster child is made part of a family.

Accreditation to receive federal funds that help pay foster care and adoption subsidies is not required but could be in the near future, foster care administrators say.

"The federal standard is five children, and people who actually provide care tell us that four should be the limit," Oakley said. "Our question to the legislators is why relate this to some cultural issue rather than what people who actually do this are saying?"

She said when most people think of big families, they imagine a stable, cohesive, traditional nuclear family, a model that many foster children aren't raised in. That means their support as they go through what is often a very difficult transition relies almost completely on the ability of foster parents and their foster siblings.

Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley City, said the state can make sure larger families are appropriate for foster children by setting standards and enforcing them rather than by placing an arbitrary limit on family size.

Rep. Judy Ann Buffmire, D-Salt Lake City, doesn't favor doing away with the limit. The variance process can ensure that larger families would provide good homes. But without the limit, she said, large families unsuitable for another child would not be identified, and problems could arise.


Contributing: Zack Van Eyck

E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com