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Child welfare leaders praise system

State doing comparatively well, panel told

A new federal report on the quality of child welfare and Utah's ability to provide it may not be glowing but the state is doing a good job, administrators told a legislative oversight committee Thursday.

Utah met eight of the 14 categories measuring case outcomes and how well the system functions as a whole, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is reviewing every state child welfare in the country.

Utah met two of the seven case measurements, such as keeping children safe and rate of repeat abuse. As other states have done, it did better in the number and type of services to help children and families involved with the system, complying with 6 of the seven measurements in that category. None of the 34 states reviewed so far have met all the standards. Only one other state has been higher than Utah: North Dakota, which complied with nine out of the 14 measurements.

"Since no state has met the standards, and none are likely to, the bar is high enough," said Adam Trupp, legal policy analyst with the state Department of Child and Family Services, the lead government agency dealing with child neglect and abuse cases.

"It is pretty good, but more importantly, the state is performing comparatively quite well," Trupp told the Child Welfare Legislative Oversight Panel. "Performance is up and down throughout the country."

The state has until Oct. 24 to finish an action plan to address the areas where it is falling short of the mark. The system will be reviewed again in two years.

"What we have seen throughout this process is that almost across the board, we really are within striking distance," Trupp said.

Congress ordered the national review to determine if child welfare reform legislation approved the past decade is having the desired effect on children and if states are making efforts to improve and maintain services. Reforms have addressed principally children's safety and moving them quicker through the process and permanent placement, whether back with their parents or into an adoptive home.

Panel co-chairman Sen. Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful, noted that the state was only one or two percentage points on several measurements of being in compliance, adding that the marks seemed to be a moving target.

"They keep raising the bar and changing the rules," Eastman said. "Seems like they're not going to allow anyone to pass through."

Some child advocates say the review is too small (50 cases) to have any relevance and that the simultaneous oversight by the U.S. federal court in Utah is a much more valid measure. The state has made improvements but isn't in full compliance yet with that review either.

Improvements are part of the $64 million the state plans to spend on foster care services in 2004. Combined with federal funding, the total expected to be spent is $128.5 million. There are about 2,000 children in state custody at any given time.


E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com