ST. GEORGE — A group of state officials and educators is looking for Utah families willing to take in teens who have left polygamous homes.
The Safety Net program hopes to find new host families to care for teenagers who have left the Fundamentalist LDS Church.
The polygamous church is accused of influencing families to eject youths or other family members deemed to be "apostates," leaving them struggling to adapt to an unfamiliar society outside their insular community.
Former FLDS member Hyrum Barlow, 22, told The Spectrum of St. George that his host family was instrumental in pushing him to obtain a GED certificate and still offers support to him, his wife and their daughter. He left the Hildale-Colorado City community straddling the Utah-Arizona border when he was 15.
"It was tough going in to somebody you don't know and the rules — having to have a curfew and always check in with someone," Barlow said. "(But) it was nice having someone to take care of you and help out with things."
Safety Net spokesman Brent Hofhines, who has hosted eight children from polygamous homes so far, recounted his own hosting experience. "One (teenage boy) I have now will probably be here through college. But typically, when they turn 18 and graduate from high school, they move out on their own," he said.
"I just see the kids who did not go with host families struggle more, because they have to go to work and they give up school," Hofhines said. "They are more successful in a family environment."
Potential host families must undergo a background check and receive some training. About five to 10 families each year host youths from polygamous communities.
Safety Net was organized under the direction of the Utah Attorney General's Office.