Foster parents on new bill: 'It’s not allowing us to do our job to protect' kids

Foster parents on new bill: 'It’s not allowing us to do our job to protect' kids

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Krissy Prestwich has been a foster parent since 2009. In 2010, she had an infant placed in her home she was able to adopt in a short period of time.

Three years later Prestwich learned that the birth mother of her child was pregnant. After abuse in the home, the baby joined his older brother for about 18 months.

Prestwich worked with the birth mother and case workers, and the younger child was eventually reunited with his mother; however, at this point, Prestwich lost all contact.

“When he left our home and went to his birth mom’s home, all of a sudden our relationship was cut off and we were no longer involved with the case," Prestwich said. "We felt that the state and the courts had an obligation to help facilitate that relationship — that’s how the bill came about.”


The bill is HB145, sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan. It was amended earlier after feedback from the Utah Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and foster parents.

"It makes the sibling visible to the court and a possibility that the court can consider when determining the best interest of the child," Ivory said.

However, determining the best interest of a child is complicated. "It’s a challenging area because you don’t want to disturb rights in another family," Ivory added.

DCFS prioritizes keeping siblings together in out-of-home care.

"While we highly encourage continuing contact between siblings after an adoption when there are no safety risks, it is ultimately the decision of the adoptive family," said Brent Platt, Division of Child and Family Services director.

HB145 might not change the situation in Preswich’s home, but it could help others.

"I think this whole bill is a baby step to recognize that sibling relationships are important," Preswich said. "Although Utah does a really great job of trying to place siblings together, it’s really hard."


It is hard determining best interest, not only for the child but the families involved. Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, has sponsored HB289 around this issue. HB289 has been reconfigured from previous failed bills. In 2016, an earlier version of this bill was vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert.

According to the bill, an individual may file a one-time petition for grandparent visitation rights when parental rights are terminated. An amendment to HB289 specifies that this amendment would happen to all current finalized adoptions retroactively. After Jan. 1, 2018, biological grandparents would have to submit their petition prior to the adoption finalization.

"I want to be absolutely clear on how supportive we are on foster parents and new adoptive parents, and reassure them that this does not affect them," Christensen said. "It’s only in the unique situation where there’s been a termination of parental rights, followed up by an internal adoption in the same family."

Shelia Stromberg, another Utah foster parent, calls HB289 "a very dangerous precedent."

“It sounds like a good idea. However, the concern for me as an adoptive parent is if the grandparent is safe," Stromberg said. "Sometimes it is not beneficial for the child to have continuation with certain family members.”

Stromberg said she is in this situation personally. While she sends updates and pictures to the other family members of the foster child, she doesn’t allow visitation and won’t put her child "back in the hands that abused them."

DCFS currently provides multiple opportunities for grandparents to petition for visitation before the adoption is finalized.

"These families became adoptive parents without the expectation that they would to be subject to petitions for visitation from the adoptive child's grandparents, and we are concerned about the bill's impact on the stability of these adoptive families," Platt said.

"On 289, the adoption and the foster people might misunderstand the bill and might be concerned," Christensen said. "We need them to understand that we sincerely care what they do in the best interest of children."

However, Stromberg does not see HB289 in the best interest of children or families.

"To commit ourselves to this child emotionally, financially, spiritually, physically and every way and have our right to protect them taken from us," she said. "It’s not allowing us to do our job to protect them."

Another issue plaguing foster parents in Utah is financial strain. Four days before Christmas, Stromberg had a young girl placed in her home.

"I had to buy an 8-year-old girl a whole new wardrobe, bedding, Christmas presents, winter clothes and all this in addition to other things," Stromberg said.

She said she loses money every month on the current reimbursement rate.

Foster parents not only have to navigate the courts and Legislature, but do it with little state reimbursement. Utah foster care reimbursement rates are one of the lowest in the nation and have not been raised in years. Platt said that foster parents “are even paid less than the daily cost to kennel a dog.”

Despite the low pay, Prestwich says it's not her main concern. "We’re not in it to make money — we’re in it to help," she said.

![Carrie Rogers-Whitehead](\.jpg?filter=ksl/65x65)
About the Author: Carrie Rogers-Whitehead -----------------------------------------

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is the CEO and founder of Digital Respons-Ability. She is a TEDx speaker and instructor at Salt Lake Community College and regularly trains on subjects such as information science, STEAM, communication and digital literacy.

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