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Bill OK'd allowing all children to petition for restoration of parental rights

Petitions could be filed on behalf of children of any age to restore their parental rights under legislation before the Utah House. The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-1 Wednesday to send HB334 to the House for its consideration.
Petitions could be filed on behalf of children of any age to restore their parental rights under legislation before the Utah House. The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-1 Wednesday to send HB334 to the House for its consideration.
Jordan Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Legal petitions could be filed on behalf of children of any age to restore their parents' parental rights under a bill now before the Utah House.

Under current law, children 12 and older can petition courts to ask that their parents' parental rights be restored under limited circumstances.

Existing law addresses older children in the custody of the Division of Child and Family Services who have not been adopted and whose parents have remedied the circumstances that resulted in termination of their parental rights.

HB334, sponsored by Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, would allow a child of any age, through an authorized representative, to petition courts to restore their parents' parental rights.

Christensen, who sponsored legislation in 2013 allowing older children to petition courts, said there are circumstances when parents have overcome the issues that resulted in termination of their parental rights.

"A common one would be someone with a drug background," he said.

Christensen said he was aware of one mother whose parental rights were terminated who has received a nursing license.

"She can care for anyone and everyone on this Earth except for the one child that God gave her," Christensen said. "Let's not have that blanket ban that no one under the age of 12 can ever qualify to have that restoration."

Liz Knight, director of the Office of the Guardian ad Litem, which provides attorneys to represent the best interests of children in cases of alleged abuse, neglect, and dependency in the juvenile courts, said the office had filed petitions on behalf of six youths since the law changed in 2013.

The teens were older and had planned to return to their birth families once they were no longer under DCFS supervision.

"We want to do it in a way that is safe and healthy for them," Knight said.

Of the six petitions, five were granted. The sixth was abandoned after the child's mother was reincarcerated the day of her parental rights restoration hearing.

While the committee voted to give the bill a favorable recommendation, some lawmakers expressed concern that young children who learn about petitions to restore parental rights would be traumatized if the petitions were denied.

"I think it would be devastating to a child to know the process is going on and it is not successful," said Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara.

Brent Platt, director of the state Division of Child and Family Services, said he did not want caseworkers to be in a position that they were required to inform young children about petitions filed to restore their parents' parental rights.

Christensen agreed to amendments to address the concerns.

The House Judiciary voted 7-1 to send the bill to the full House for its consideration.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com