Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service

Project Prologue

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 was very little training for employees and foster families, and they continued having problems where children were poorly treated.  There had been several high profile child deaths that were very visible.  Robin Arnold-Williams reflects that those cases have a tremendous impact on all staff involved – from the line worker to the agency leaders – “they always stay with you; you remember the names and the faces.” Leavitt and Robin Arnold-Williams observed the flawed system and sincerely wanted to fix it.

Along the campaign trail, Leavitt was faced with advocates that would approach him to complain about the many problems in an effort to advocate finding a solution.  As Leavitt explains it, “I was introduced to it along the way.  The more I got into it, the deeper I dug; and the deeper I dug, the more I could see it was a real problem.  I sincerely did want to fix it, and I did have every intention of making it a priority.  However, even before I was even sworn in as governor, they sued us.”

Additional Information

The case of Breanna Loveless: https://caselaw.findlaw.com/ut-supreme-court/1369441.html Breanna Loveless’ Obituary: https://www.deseret.com/1996/2/25/19227205/death-breanna-loveless
Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service