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Lawmaker Wants to Rein in DCFS After Jensen Controversy

Lawmaker Wants to Rein in DCFS After Jensen Controversy

Posted - Dec. 3, 2003 at 2:00 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- An Orem lawmaker wants to regulate the ability of the state's Division of Child and Family Services to take children from their families.

The move is in response to the controversy over Parker Jensen, whose parents successfully fought the state's efforts to gain custody and force chemotherapy on the 12-year-old boy.

Parker was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer last spring. His parents' disagreement with doctors over treatment forced the family into a months-long public custody battle with Utah authorities. Last month the state withdrew its petition for custody of the boy, which would also have placed him in court-ordered chemotherapy treatments.

The parents feared the treatments could have stunted the boy's growth and left him sterile.

Sen. Parley Hellewell, R-Orem, said he plans to run a number of bills in the 2004 legislative session, including one measure that proposes to restructure the agency to make it more "parent-friendly."

Other lawmakers, including Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Orem, also are expected to introduce several child welfare reform measures likely to pit staunch child advocates against parental-rights groups.

"What happened with the Parker Jensen case was 100 percent wrong," Hellewell said. "The state needs to watch over children who are being abused, there's no question about it, but DCFS has way, way, way too much power."

Hellewell said he has met with numerous people who've recounted tales of a state agency wielding unnecessary and intimidating power.

"The sad thing is that so many of these people didn't have the wherewithal that the Jensens did ... the money or whatever to fight DCFS."

One woman, Hellewell said, had her child taken away after she fell down the stairs while holding the child. The resulting broken leg, and the fact that she didn't immediately recognize the injury, prompted removal of the child from her custody.

"Some of the stories I have heard are so sad I can't believe it," he said. "The agency is supposed to be family-oriented, but they are destroying families."

Adam Trupp, DCFS's administrator for policy and planning, said officials are willing to sit down and talk about the proposed changes if they better serve the public.

"A restructuring of DCFS might be appropriate, but we need a lot of discussion on it. The issue that we strongly disagree with is that our agency is out of control. We strongly disagree we are not responsive to the needs of families."

Trupp said DCFS is dismayed at the timing of the call for change because it comes when the agency is implementing its own changes in the way it does business.

"We're constantly hearing how we yank kids out of homes for no reason, but the data doesn't support that we are doing that," Trupp said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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