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Report mixed on child welfare

System shines in some areas, not in others

SHARE Report mixed on child welfare

Deseret Morning News graphic

The latest numbers show Utah's child welfare system sparkling with success in several areas and continuing to struggle to meet some federal standards, particularly with how many placements a child endures.

Richard Anderson, director of the Division of Child and Family Services, delivered an update Thursday to members of the Child Welfare Oversight Panel.

"We've been working on the concept that the first placement ought to be the best and last placement," Anderson said.

However, Utah's system has several short-term shelters where children stay at the outset of suspected neglect or abuse, which may be followed up in another setting such as a residential treatment center. If the center fails to achieve success with the child, another placement may follow.

Statistics show Utah's numbers declining in the ability to meet the federal requirement in this category. While a little more than 80 percent of children in out-of-home care in Utah had two or fewer placements in 2001, that number was down to 72.4 percent in 2003.

The national standard is 86.7 percent, with the majority of states failing to meet that performance level.

Figures also show Utah failing to meet the national standard as it relates to the number of children at home with one or more recurrences of "maltreatment" within a six-month period.

That number has increased from 7.1 percent in 2000 to 7.7 percent in 2003, a number Anderson said he suspects may be experiencing a slight spike as caseworkers continue to place an emphasis on working with families.

The national standard is 6.1 percent. By comparison, 2000 data show Montana failed to meet the threshold most severely, with 13.1 percent, compared to Delaware at 3 percent.

Utah did shine in its efforts to reunite children with their primary caregivers within 12 months, exceeding the national standard of 76.2 percent with a figure of 81.9 percent for 2003.

Ordered by Congress in response to the flurry of state and federal child welfare reforms enacted since 1994, the survey is attempt to determine the effectiveness or failure of those reforms.

Anderson noted two areas of growing concern that child welfare caseworkers are encountering at increasing levels.

Because of a 1997 state law that classifies domestic violence that occurs in view or earshot of a child as "child abuse," those cases represent a substantial number of referrals to the division.

"It is growing very rapidly," he said, noting that 33 percent of referrals are domestic violence-related.

Other statistics show a significant increase in the percentage of children who are placed in custody with drug and alcohol as contributing factors.

In 1998, that number was at nearly 31 percent, compared to 59 percent in 2003.

Anderson said that unfortunately, in many of the cases, the children who wind up in the system with substance-abuse problems have used drugs with parents or grandparents.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com