Utah: Legislator Proposes Promising Changes to Abuse Laws

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There is some promising news to report from the state of Utah. Sen. Al Jackson, R-Highland, is proposing a modest change to the laws concerning child abuse that would eliminate neglect as a reason the state could remove a child from a home.

The proposed bill, SB 261, would eliminate a provision in which a parent “does not adequately provide for a child’s welfare” as justification for the removal of a child. The law, as it currently exists, begins with some reasonable presuppositions:

A fundamentally fair process must be provided to parents if the state moves to challenge or interfere with parental rights. A governmental entity must support any actions or allegations made in opposition to the rights and desires of a parent regarding the parent’s children by sufficient evidence to satisfy a parent’s constitutional entitlement to heightened protection against government interference with the parent’s fundamental rights and liberty interests.

The fundamental liberty interest of a parent concerning the care, custody, and management of the parent’s children is recognized, protected, and does not cease to exist simply because a parent may fail to be a model parent or because the parent’s child is placed in the temporary custody of the state. At all times, a parent retains a vital interest in preventing the irretrievable destruction of family life. Prior to an adjudication of unfitness, government action in relation to parents and their children may not exceed the least restrictive means or alternatives available to accomplish a compelling state interest. Until the state proves parental unfitness, the child and the child’s parents share a vital interest in preventing erroneous termination of their natural relationship and the state cannot presume that a child and the child’s parents are adversaries.

It is in the best interest and welfare of a child to be raised under the care and supervision of the child’s natural parents. A child’s need for a normal family life in a permanent home, and for positive, nurturing family relationships is usually best met by the child’s natural parents. Additionally, the integrity of the family unit and the right of parents to conceive and raise their children are constitutionally protected. The right of a fit, competent parent to raise the parent’s child without undue government interference is a fundamental liberty interest that has long been protected by the laws and Constitution and is a fundamental public policy of this state.

From there, however, the laws as currently written grant broad and sweeping powers to child protection agencies, who routinely overlook the spirit and intent of the legislation under which they conduct business.

The modification being proposed would simply strike a few lines from the existing legislation.

Hat’s off to Senator Alvin Jackson for his thoughtful submission. Let’s just hope that his proposal manages to gain some traction, as the bill will need all the help that it can get with so many system “stakeholders” bound to come out of the woodwork lobbying against it.

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