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SALT LAKE CITY — Former Gov. Mike Leavitt is calling on Utah lawmakers to approve a funding increase for the Utah Foster Care Foundation, which is threatening to close its doors if it does not receive an additional $400,000 to cover operating costs.
The foundation was created in 1998 — during Leavitt's governorship — in response to the landmark class-action lawsuit David C. v. Leavitt. The lawsuit alleged Utah's foster system neglected and endangered children in its custody.
"The state had a very serious problem," Leavitt said in an interview with KSL. "The lawsuit lasted 14 years."
The National Center for Youth Law filed the lawsuit in 1993. As a resolution neared in late 2008, the California-based organization wrote to Utah officials to praise the reforms that had taken place to the state's child welfare system.
"Utah had one of the most troubled foster care systems in the country," the letter said. "Now, it has one of the best."
The Utah Foster Care Foundation's efforts to recruit and train quality foster families was integral in the system's impressive turnaround, Leavitt said. In fact, the foundation's uncertain future prompted him to make a rare appearance during a legislative session to address the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee.
"The worry I have is that history will repeat itself," Leavitt said afterwards. "This is a time when history matters and we need to learn from it or we'll have the same consequence and, I might add, some of the same tragedies we had before."
Even though the workload has increased, the foundation's funding has stayed level for the past several years, Leavitt said. Last year, the non-profit agency found, screened and trained nearly 580 families to accept foster children.
"We do not want to shut our doors," said Kelly Peterson, Utah Foster Care Foundation's CEO. "We love what we do and we are good at what we do."
Peterson said the foundation's current budget of $2.7 million is not enough to cover operating costs. Now that reserves are depleted, the foundation plans to wind down operations starting on June 30.
"The children are better cared for with better quality foster parents," said Peterson, who has been with the foundation since it was formed. "We don't want to go back to where we were."
If the foundation does stop operating, the responsibility to recruit, screen and train potential foster parents would be transferred back to the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.