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In Depth: Economy strains foster care system

In Depth: Economy strains foster care system



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Utah, like many states, is having a tough time recruiting foster care families, and rough economic times could strain the foster care system even more.

The number of foster parents has stayed steady in Utah over the last five years. State officials say that's a problem, because there's a dramatic rise in the number of foster children.

Child and Family Services Director Duane Betournay said, "[There are] 200 to 300 more individuals in custody now than there were five years ago, or even four years ago."

Betournay says he expects even more children to enter the foster system because of budget cuts in other programs.

"For example, [if] we're involved with a family where methamphetamines are a problem in the home and someone can't get treatment for that because of the fact that substance abuse programs have been cut back, that child is potentially at greater risk, and therefore we would have a consideration of having to take that child into custody," he explained.

Betournay says they've already cut $2.3 million because of the special legislative session last month, and substance abuse prevention and intervention programs took a big hit, as did mental health programs.

"There will be more cuts in the future," he said.

The Utah Foster Care Foundation wanted to see an increase in the monthly stipend given to foster care families, but future budget cuts has it doubting that will happen soon. Plus, recent economic problems are changing the reasons why some families want to take in a foster child.

Foundation Director of Foster Adoptive Family Recruitment Kelsey Lewis said, "People are calling, and they're having a lot more questions about ‘what does this pay?' So we've had to turn some families away that are actually looking to this as a part-time job."

Lewis says other families have to take a second look at whether they can afford to be foster parents, even with the monthly stipend, which starts at $450.

"There really are children who need families right now, and if we don't have families in every community of Utah then we don't have a safe place for these kids to go," Lewis said.

Lewis also says many potential families worry about taking in a child who may have serious emotional issues or problematic behavior.

"What most foster families will tell us, though, is that these are children just like any child," she said.

Lewis says there have been roughly between 1,200 and 1,300 foster families in Utah since the state started recruiting them in 2000.

E-mail: pnelson@ksl.com

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Paul Nelson

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