Audit: Too many kids diverted to foster care

Legislative auditors believe too many Utah children are being diverted to foster care instead of being treated, along with their families, at home.
A report released this week by Utah’s Legislative Auditor General says putting more children into foster care is costing the state too much money when alternatives are available that also can protect children, plus help resolve family issues.
The auditors pointed out that more than 700 children have been added to the Utah foster care system in the past decade, a 38 percent increase, and a trend opposite to what has happened around the U.S.
“This is … troubling to us,” noted the authors of the report, which was presented Tuesday to the audit subcommittee of the Legislative Management Committee. “We found…that other states are reducing their foster care populations.”
In total, the audit of the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) made 19 performance recommendations to the agency, none of which agency leaders said they disagreed with as long as the agency can continue to protect children, where appropriate.
“We plan to use the recommendations … to implement positive change and improvement within the division,” answered Brent Platt, the DCFS director, in responding to the report.
A settlement from the 1993 David C. lawsuit, which challenged the child welfare system in Utah, started the state on a major change in how it treated kids who were at risk of abuse, neglect or dependency.
Since 1993, Utah has more than tripled the DCFS budget and the number of agency employees.
But in talking with DCFS workers, auditors said they were told the changes from the lawsuit made DCFS and the court employees more “risk averse,” leading employees to believe the system can better protect children in foster care than in-home.
Platt, who took his post during the past year, believes a growing underage population, more complicated cases and recent funding cuts also contributed in the switch to foster care options, which could include new homes or institutions.
But the auditors said the division should reverse its practice of diverting resources from in-home programs and find other efficiencies to balance out how kids and their families are handled by DCFS.
Those in-home programs include counseling, education, case management and various tests and assessments.