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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The state program that reviews individual foster care cases had its budget cut in half by the Legislature and now it expects to be able to review only half the cases.
Some legislators wanted to cut the Foster Care Citizens Review Board's entire $650,000 state funding, but $300,000 ultimately was approved for 2003-04.
Some legislators believe the board is an unnecessary duplication of effort because the courts and the state Division of Child and Family Services already conduct foster care reviews.
A class-action lawsuit filed a decade ago claimed the state was not properly caring for children in state custody and was actually endangering them. Utah has made improvements, but remains under federal court oversight.
Review board members say they have been an integral part of those improvements and that efforts to drop the board would erode the progress that has been made.
The mostly volunteer network of 39 case review boards statewide has had paid staff reduced to 12 from 22 and has consolidated outlying administrative offices into one located in Salt Lake. The board has 358 volunteers now compared to 430 a year ago.
About 900 case reviews will be conducted in the new fiscal year, about half the number conducted last year. There are about 2,000 children in state custody at any given time in Utah. The board has had a goal of reviewing every child's case every year.
Board director Patricia Worthington said, "The review board doesn't overlap. It deals directly with the children and foster parents involved and how well things are working on the front line."
Children and parents in foster care know it, she said, "but not everyone is buying into that."
DCFS Director Richard Anderson said he is convinced the citizens review board has made a difference. He said further efforts to cut it harms one of the most effective volunteer organizations in the state.
"People on the board are not only finding out what's really going on in the foster care system that they've heard only mostly bad things about, many of them go on to become more involved and to even adopt some of these kids," Anderson said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)