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Foster-care cap has merit

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Utahns made a careful distinction in a recent Dan Jones & Associates poll regarding the existing limit on the number of children in a state foster family.

They apparently didn't view the existing limit as an affront to families. Rather, they understood that child welfare policy needs to be driven by considerations that allow troubled children to thrive in foster care and further the well-being of foster families themselves.

As such, some 70 percent of Utahns polled for a recent Deseret News/KSL-TV survey said the state should limit state foster families to six children. The poll question was prompted by recent debate over the existing six-child standard, which some lawmakers believe should be rescinded.

People entrusted as state foster parents are asked to meet a number of requirements, and it should be understood that the six-child limit is not inflexible. In the past 12 months, 265 variances of the family-size rule were requested. All but four were granted.

The issue is less a question of quantity as quality. Some large households can provide the necessary supervision and nurturing that will help the foster children and at the same time foster their own family's needs. Not all families are equal, but the variances respect those that can meet the demands.

The limit is not meant to micromanage large families. Rather, its intent is to protect children: foster children and the children of foster parents. Because most foster children come from a history of neglect or abuse, sometimes both, they require a great deal of attention.

Some foster children who have been abused may act out on members of the foster family. Some children may resent the level of attention a foster child may require, which could result in other tensions. Under the best of circumstances, there must be intense supervision of all children in a foster care household.

It is interesting to note that many state foster parents believe, because of foster children's profound personal needs, that the per-household limit should be four children. This comes from providers who know first-hand the demands of caring for children in state custody.

Seemingly, the goal of foster care policy should be to create processes that result in successful placements. While some foster children are reunited with their birth families, others are adopted by foster families. The best outcome in any event is to provide the child with a stable, predictable environment until a final placement can be achieved.

Without some benchmark, how are child welfare workers to evaluate which large families would provide the optimal setting for a particular child? As this page has said before, we see no evidence that the current policy is broken or unbending. The best course here is to leave the existing policy in place.