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SALT LAKE CITY — Though Utah Division of Child and Family Services Director Diane Moore admits her department might not offer the most glamorous or highest-paying jobs, she says it does boast some of the most important and rewarding jobs in the state.
The agency’s mission is to protect children from abuse and neglect, as well as provide domestic violence services for Utahns. DCFS staffers also commonly work with community members to keep families strong and healthy.
“You want to provide mechanisms that are there to protect children,” Moore said. “They are our most vulnerable population.”
Here is a breakdown of what the DCFS does, how the department works and what it can offer to you and your family in a time of need.
How does the DCFS process reports of child abuse or neglect?
Everyone in Utah is a “mandated reporter” for child abuse or neglect, Moore said. That means if you’re aware of a situation where there might be abuse or neglect, you’re obligated to report it to police or to the DCFS, according to state law.
The DCFS maintains a 24-hour hotline for people to report such cases: 1-855-323-3237. Callers can remain anonymous, Moore said.
Calling the hotline doesn’t automatically mean DCFS will get involved, she said. Many callers are seeking more information or resources about how to deal with issues at home.
“I think people have a misperception that if they call the hotline, that they are unleashing this sort of preordained chain of events, which probably is not an accurate image that they have in their head of what it’s really like,” Moore said.
If what is reported on a call turns out to meet the definition for abuse or neglect set by the state Legislature, DCFS staffers will investigate it, Moore said.
The next steps depend on the circumstances of the case, but they almost always include an assessment of the child’s safety and a conversation with the child’s parents, she said.
DCFS staff members sometimes also work with other people in the child’s life — including extended family members, clergy, medical professionals and others — to determine what the best course of action will be for the child. That process of working with the important people in the child’s life is known as “teaming.”
Even if there’s no abuse or neglect, DCFS officials still try to be a resource for families, Moore said.
“We try to leave families better than we found them with better connectedness to their community resources and better info about parenting,” she said.
Since every case is different, there are an infinite number of outcomes for how a family’s case can be resolved, Moore said. The family’s individual needs guide the process, as does the family’s vision for maintaining a healthy family unit.
“We’re firm believers that families are their best experts,” DCFS spokeswoman Ashley Sumner said.
How many cases does the DCFS handle?
In 2017, the DCFS received just under 40,000 tips of possible child abuse or neglect and investigated about 21,000 of those, according to the agency’s annual report.
Of the cases the agency investigated, about 34 percent of the claims were supported by evidence and about 59 percent were unsupported, the report stated. Five percent of the referrals were unable to be completed or located by the agency, and another 2 percent were found to be without merit.
Abuse or neglect was found in just under 10,000 cases the DCFS investigated in Utah in 2017.
The most common allegation in the cases CPS processed in 2017 was neglect, which accounted for 47 percent of cases, according to the report. The next most common allegation was sexual abuse, which accounted for 26 percent of cases.
The DCFS designates almost $3 million each year for child abuse and neglect prevention services, according to the website. The money goes toward agencies in the community that provide services such as crisis respite nurseries, where caregivers can bring their kids during stressful times.
What happens if a child needs to be removed from his or her family or home situation?
Out of the 9,986 cases in 2017 where the DCFS found abuse or neglect, a child was placed in foster care in only 14 percent of those cases, according to Sumner.
Despite having one of the fastest-growing child populations, Utah has one of the lowest foster care rates in the nation, Moore said. Reducing the need for foster care is one of the top priorities for the DCFS, and the agency tries to keep families intact whenever possible, she said.
When a home or family situation is determined unsafe for the child, the DCFS first looks for a “kinship placement” — another family member or relative who may be able to care for the child.
In 42 percent of Utah cases last year, children who needed to be removed from their home were placed with a relative, Sumner said.
DCFS officials are proud of that number, which is considered better than average for kinship placement, Moore said.
“We feel like it’s a reflection of our community’s values and reiterates the importance of family (in Utah),” Moore said. “Even when their parents can’t take care of them, 42 percent of the time we’re able to find other relatives who can.”
What resources are available for families or parents in need?
There are many resources available for parents and families that don’t require DCFS to get involved.
One of the best resources is Utah’s 211 service, Moore said. Administered by the United Way, 211 is available for anyone who needs help or wants to give help.
Information about domestic violence and abuse is available on 211, as well as information about mental health services, employment, transportation, food, legal needs and various other health and human services.
The DCFS also offers a number of resources through its website, dcfs.utah.gov. The agency can also refer people to parenting classes and other support services such as crisis support centers, youth service centers, crisis respite nurseries and the Children’s Service Society.
“We try to mobilize those resources and really try to be change agents,” Moore said. “That can be a catalyst for that family, launching whatever change is needed in their lives.”