Gov. Spencer Cox called on Utahns to erase a historic deficit in foster care parenting during a joint press conference with state faith leaders on Tuesday.

Utah currently has 1,756 children in the foster care system but only 822 licensed foster families — the lowest number in over 25 years, according to Utah Foster Care CEO Nikki MacKay.

To meet this demand, Cox announced a formal invitation will be sent out to faith congregations across the state asking members to consider caring for foster children. A similar push occurred under former Gov. Mike Leavitt 24 years ago when several Utah area regional presidencies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement encouraging members to enter the program.

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In response, a record number of Utahns offered up their homes for foster care, Cox said at the press conference. Now, with the number of foster parents in the state “at an all time low,” Cox said he is “calling on Utahns to do the same thing again today.”

“When we say we’re the best state in the nation and the most generous state in the nation, now it’s time to put our actions where our mouths are. This is how we prove that we really are the most generous state in the nation,” Cox said.

Utah regularly ranks No. 1 in the country on metrics of charitable giving, economic outlook and religiosity. Because of this, Cox said in coming weeks he expects Utahns to set a new record for the number of people visiting and requesting to become a foster family.

Utah ranked the No. 1 overall state by U.S. News and World Report

“I do believe this is ‘pure religion and undefiled before God,’ taking care of the fatherless, those who are struggling, those who do not have parents,” Cox said, quoting from the Bible. “We love our most vulnerable and we’re calling upon all of you to help us take care of our most vulnerable.”

Gov. Spencer Cox and first lady Abby Cox speak during a Utah Foster Care press conference in Lehi on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Cox said he believes Utah can turn its foster-parent-to-foster-child ratio on its head, becoming the first state in the nation to swap a waiting list of children looking for families, with a waiting list of families looking for children.

First lady Abby Cox said the biggest need in Utah’s foster care system is homes for children older than nine and sibling groups. Foster parents can be single individuals or married, homeowners or renters, childless or already parents, the first lady said.

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“Each one of us need to look in our hearts, and in our homes, and in our situation and see, ‘Can I be a foster parent? Is that in my situation right now?’ And if not, how can I support?,” the first lady said. “One caring adult can make a huge difference in the life of a child. So please find it in your heart today to be a part of this system.”

Elder Hugo E. Martínez, the first counselor of the Utah Area presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called the press conference held at the request of the governor “a marvelous event for a wonderful cause.”


“I testify to you that these are God’s children, and that he loves them dearly, and that we have the opportunity to help, to foster and that is an invitation that we extend to you,” Martínez said, clarifying, “This is an invitation to the community at large.”

Rev. Jamie White, the pastor of Salt Lake City’s First Presbyterian Church, recounted the experience of her and her husband becoming foster parents. Her message for Utahns was to not let fear or doubt keep you from entering foster care.

“We just have to do all we can to address the shortage of foster homes in Utah,” White said. “And so whatever we have to do, let’s make room.”

The event also featured short remarks from MacKay, Entrata CEO Adam Edmunds, a current foster parent and a former foster care young adult.

Elder Hugo E. Martinez of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints talks with Jamie White, foster parent and First Presbyterian pastor, and her adopted daughter Mila White during a Utah Foster Care press conference in Lehi on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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