Parental rights, adoption, public assistance top human services agenda

Published: Thursday, March 14 2013 10:20 p.m. MDT

The Utah State Capitol shines against the Salt Lake Valley during the final day of legislature in Salt Lake City Thursday, March 14, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — Children ages 12 and older could petition courts through attorneys to ask that their parents' parental rights be restored in limited circumstances under a bill passed late Thursday by the Utah Legislature.

The bill refers to older children in the custody of the Division of Child and Family Services who have not been adopted and whose parents have been "sufficiently rehabilitated from the behavior that resulted in the termination of the parent-child relationship."

Ultimately, a judge would decide if restoration of the parental rights was in the best interest of the child. 

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who amended HB156 in the Senate, said the bill doesn't go as far as some supporters would have liked, but passing even a limited bill "gets the door open." 

The Legislature also passed a bill that would create enforceable post-adoption agreements between people who adopt children in DCFS custody and their birth families.

Having a means to negotiate some contact with birth parents or other relatives such as grandparents when safe and appropriate is "groundbreaking," said Rep. Derek Brown, R-Cottonwood Heights, during House debate Wednesday night.

Critics said SB155 would have been more appropriate in the cases of private adoptions. All agreements will require judicial approval.

In other action, the Legislature passed a bill intended to help unmarried birth fathers further protect their parental rights in an attempt to address issues raised in recent court cases challenging adoptions. The same bill clarifies processes when birth fathers fail to respond to notices of impending adoptions. Another bill directs state regulators to further rein in unethical practices by adoption agencies and their employees.

Meanwhile, SB282 directs the state Office of Vital Statistics to explore the feasibility of partnering with the public legal notice website to create a national putative father registry and report its findings to the Legislature's Health and Human Services Interim Committee. 

Public assistance programs were also addressed during the legislative session. To comply with a federal mandate, state lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting the use of welfare funds in strip clubs, casinos and liquor stores. Lawmakers said there was no evidence suggesting this was a major problem in Utah.

The Legislature also passed legislation to support an ongoing effort to break the cycles of intergenerational poverty and welfare dependency. Last year, legislation required information gathering and publishing a report.

SB53 creates a commission of state department heads that administer programs related to children, government programs, child welfare and justice. The commission will develop policy recommendations to bridge department boundaries and better serve the needs of children. 

E-mail: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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