The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has again encouraged parents who live in Utah to consider becoming foster parents.

A letter making that request recently was issued by the Utah North and Utah South Area Presidencies to stake presidencies and forwarded to ward bishops. The latest letter follows a similar request made about four years ago. Gov. Mike Leavitt also has made requests of Utahns because of the shortage of foster homes to care for neglected or abused children.

The need for parents to care for foster children is "constant and critical," Fred M. Riley, commissioner of LDS Family Services and a member of the private Utah Foster Care Foundation, said Saturday.

"In my role as commissioner of family services, we have worked with the state on foster care needs or issues for a number of years. There has never been a sufficient number of homes for the kids in need," he said.

Riley said he understands the state has licensed about 1,110 foster families but hopes to have 1,500 by the end of the year.

Four years ago Leavitt asked people of all faiths to consider becoming foster parents, and the LDS Church made a similar request at that time of its members in Utah. The plea was also endorsed by the church's First Presidency.

As result of state recruitment efforts about four years ago, about 500 families contacted the state child welfare agency over a period of about 18 months to volunteer to become foster parents.

But Riley, speaking as a member of the foundation, said the state system to get parents trained and licensed to become foster parents "wasn't adequate at the time. So some people who volunteered to become foster parents didn't make it through the home licensing process."

"A number of parents became frustrated with the process and gave up," Riley said.

He said the state system needed to be "a little more user friendly. Then I think more of those folks would have gotten licensed."

The latest letter from the church thanks members for their earlier response and asks them to again consider volunteering. It points out that many children needing foster homes are members of the church.

The letter says families interested in becoming foster parents may contact the Utah Foster Care Foundation at 1-877-505-5437.

About two years ago, Leavitt announced that the recruitment and training of foster parents was to be taken out of the state system and the private foundation established. Efforts by the foundation, headed by Dallis Pierson, is working well, Riley said. But Riley, who was not in his office Saturday, said he couldn't immediately supply statistics. The Deseret News was unable Saturday to reach an official from Leavitt's office and Pierson.

Once the foundation recruits and trains foster parents, the names of the parents are turned over to the state, which places children in the homes. And the state supervises the foster-care placements.

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"The role of the foundation is strictly to recruit and train the homes," Riley pointed out. He emphasized the "cooperative relationship between the foundation and the state. The major goal is to increase the number of homes for needy children."

Some foster parents, he said, have had concerns about adequate payment for certain kinds of foster care. Some children in foster care have special needs. Riley said he was not able to address those kinds of issues, which "rest with the state. The state establishes the fees paid to foster parents. The foundation doesn't have anything to do with the fees paid to foster parents."


E-mail: palmer@desnews.com