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 responsible for was growing by the day and the state makes a lousy parent for children. We had to find some good people who were willing do this.” The Governor then led the development of what would be a major departure from traditional approaches to this issue. Officially announced at the 1997 ALERT Summit, Leavitt declared, “Every child in Utah must have a parent or other caring adult in their life.  We must start by caring properly for our own children, but more is required. Today, the state of Utah has only one third the number of foster families needed to care for children in crisis. These children need safe havens when they have been beaten, neglected, or abused.  This is hard and often inconvenient, but it is the essence of human service. Today, I call on Utah families to come forward and offer their homes to foster children.” He further offered that by the fall of 1997, he and Lt. Governor Walker would unveil a plan to transfer the bulk of foster family recruitment and training from a state agency to a community effort that would be able to harness the power of Utah schools, churches, and civic organizations to address this problem.  The Governor personally invested time in securing private sector support for this effort.  Gracious Utah donors, (most of whom desired to remain anonymous) put up a million dollars each to assist with start up of what became known as the Utah Foster Care Foundation (UFCF). The Governor also approached a retired private sector executive, Richard Shipley, and asked that he volunteer his efforts to assist a group chaired by Lt. Governor Olene Walker in developing the overall business plan for creating the public, private, community partnership. Richard accepted the challenge and did a remarkable job developing the processes and structure and is a true hero in this story. UFCF was created as an intermediary between community organizations and churches and the state allowing them to step forward to assist and yet maintain an arms-length distance with government. In the 1998 session, the Legislature enacted legislation to authorize the Division of Child and Family Services to contract with a private, non-profit organization to recruit and train foster parents. In October 1998, UFCF was incorporated and entered into a contract with the state wherein the Foundation agreed to do the recruiting and training of foster parents. buy  UFCF used churches as a key resource for recruitment. This way, the separation between church and state was maintained for the benefit of the churches and the state. This model worked incredibly well and is still a national model. When Governor Leavitt left office, there were between twelve and thirteen hundred foster parents—double the number of foster parents at the time Governor Leavitt took office. Although he would have preferred to avoid the mess, Leavitt recalls: “One thing that came from this [litigation] that I feel quite satisfied about is the progress we made in recruiting foster families and upgrading the quality of families that were willing to take in foster kids.” Indeed, at the State of State Address, Governor Leavitt made a tradition of highlighting foster parents and what they had contributed, and this would encourage even more people to become foster parents.  Robin notes that an organizational and management cultural change was instituted throughout the Leavitt administration to make decision making and operations data- driven. This forced DHS to analyze its data leading to the use of performance based contracts. This cultural element was imbued into the contract with the UFCF. The agency realized the recruitment and selection of foster parents needed to be more closely tied to the needs of the children in its care. Previously, a more general and haphazard approach to recruitment and selection meant that available foster families were not being matched to the children in need of placement based upon cultural background, geography, or special needs. DHS stopped doing mass and generalized marketing and recruitment and started doing targeted recruitment.  This shift sustained success for the program because more families had better experiences and children found themselves with the type of foster parents that would serve them best. This fundamentally changed the recruitment and retention of foster parents.

Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service