Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service

Project Prologue

Utah Foster Care Foundation

Developing the Utah Foster Care Foundation Key to achieving the improved outcomes for foster children that Governor Leavitt wanted to accomplish was having a pool of quality, trained foster parents who could open their homes and their hearts to abused and neglected children. Each year, through the Division of Child and Family Services, the state would undertake major outreach efforts to recruit potential families. Despite best intentions and plans, the efforts fell far short. The number of available foster parents continued to decline while the number of children in state custody had reached an all time high of nearly 2,350 and it was increasing at an average annual rate of 8 percent. As Governor Leavitt explains it, “The only people that were signing up to be foster parents were a few really devoted, noble souls, and then a lot of people who just wanted the money.” Because of this problem, Governor Leavitt approached the churches in the state and said, “I’ve just got to have help here. We’ve just got to get better and bigger numbers of foster parents. The number of calls we were getting [to provide foster parents] was off the chart.  The number of children we were (more…)


The Lawsuit

The David C. v Leavitt Lawsuit In 1992, David C. v Leavitt was filed shortly after the election capturing attention in the media and positioning child welfare as a key issue. While in litigation, there were a couple of key issues at play. The David C. suit was filed by the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) which focused on class action litigation in the child welfare and juvenile justice field. Also, the Center for Youth Law, Bill Grimm, and his colleagues, were motivated by the money. If they were able to get a judgment against the State, they could write themselves into it. If the governor and his team were able to fix the problems short of intervention and on-going jurisdiction of the federal court, there was no money in it for NCYL or Grimm. Leavitt states, “I wasn’t persuaded that they could be so nefarious at first, but the more I dealt with them, the more persuaded I became. I now conclude that obtaining a judgment was, in large measure, what motivated them. They had a case, they wanted to bring it, and they milked it for 14 years…we’re not talking about small rates. They were milking it (more…)


Notable Child Welfare Cases

Notable Child Welfare Cases Another pivotal child welfare event was the Parker Jensen medical neglect case that acquired a lot of media and public attention and scrutiny. The case came to the attention of the Division of Child and Family Services when the young boy, Parker Jensen, was diagnosed with cancer, and his parents refused to put him through the recommended treatment regimen. Under Utah’s child abuse laws, doctors are required to report any suspected abuse or neglect including medical neglect.  As the child protection case began to play out in juvenile court, and to avoid having their son treated, Parker’s parents took him out of state and “hid” him. Utah physicians vocally argued that Parker would die if he did not receive treatment. Parker’s parents refused to believe it. The State, through efforts of the Attorney General and the Office of Guardian ad Litem secured a court order for the return of Parker to Utah. The story blew up in the press because it became a rallying cry for the rights of parents over the rights of the state. It was learned that Parker had been taken to Idaho. In an effort to find a peaceful resolution, Governor Leavitt (more…)


Welfare Reform

Welfare Reform When Governor Leavitt came to office in 1993, Utah was already well on its way to implementing state designed Welfare Reform, and in 1994, Utah started to realize broad reforms. These reforms, it should be noted, took place long before welfare reform was a national agenda item and was very consistent with Governor Leavitt’s desires to focus on areas where states rights could be asserted. Department staff had joined with stakeholders and community agencies to design what became known as the Single Parent Employment Demonstration (SPED) project, which was implemented in four locations in January 1993. The project required the State of Utah to request and receive federal approval of 46 different waivers of policies that stood in the way of single parents entering the employment market and successfully working their way off welfare.  The focus of Utah’s efforts was assisting struggling parents by increasing their family income with employment and child support.  The goal was to make welfare about work and making work pay.  The federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) law prior to 1996 was very prescriptive and left very little flexibility for states. Governor Leavitt explained, “It had a series of onerous rules (more…)


Problems of Child Welfare

An Abrupt Introduction to the Problems of Child Welfare Governor Michael O. Leavitt sensed the looming problems dealing with child welfare along the campaign trail.  At this time, Norm Angus was the head of the Department Human Services (DHS) which included the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS).  DCFS was responsible for services to abused and neglected children and foster care services.  DCFS was deficient, malnourished, and neglected.  Case loads were out of control; as Leavitt states, “The agency had an explosion of new children and very little new funding.  This was one of those situations in government where legislators did not feel rewarded by increasing funding for child welfare for abused children, and likely no reasonable amount of funding increase would be wholly sufficient.  So, it became viewed as an agency that could be funded at whatever level was available and the agency would work it out, and it had been done that way for a long time.  The system was also badly in need of modernization.”  Serious deficiencies existed in meeting the needs of foster children, and the agency severely lacked the tools to operate efficiently.  For example, the agency still did not operate using email.  There (more…)


Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service