SALT LAKE CITY — An 18 year old can vote, join the military and for many other purposes is considered an adult.
So it follows that an 18-year-old in the care of the Division of Child and Family Services, in concert with their parents, should be able to petition a juvenile court to end that supervision and be reunited with their families, Sen. Alvin Jackson, R-Highland, told a legislative committee during a hearing on SB79 late Tuesday afternoon.
"The intent of the language is, once a child turns 18, they're able to, along with their parents, decide that, 'Hey, we've made changes in our lives. We understand a situation has occurred that forced DCFS to take the child from the home.'
"But at 18, the child should be able to make the decision along with the parents to go back home," he said.
But Tabi Alverson, who was in foster care as teenager, said she fears older teens would "manipulate" courts and end up without supports that they need or reunited with parents who have not addressed the issues that required the child being removed from their care.
Alverson, 23, said she had the option of returning to her family when she aged out of care, but she decided to remain with her foster family.
"I wouldn't have graduated high school if I didn't have my foster mom pulling me through and making that happen," she said, addressing the Utah Legislature's Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
But Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said she has worked with a family in which the natural parents' parental rights had been terminated and a youth who wanted out of DCFS custody ran away from his foster home.
"It's almost like he was in jail until he was 21," she said.
The boy was ultimately allowed to leave DCFS custody, she said.
Stacey Snyder, director of the Utah Office of Guardian ad Litem, said among the group of foster children she previously represented, 10 to 15 would jump at the chance to end their DCFS care at their peril.
"I believe it would be a disservice to that group of children," she said.
The bill failed on a tie vote of the committee.
Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said he was not opposed to the bill but he voted no because "it's a little messy right now."
Renee Calkins, a foster parent who has cared for some 50 children in state custody, said youths over 18, through their guardian ad litems, can petition courts to end state supervision now so she questioned the need for the bill.
"I don't see anyone forcing a kid in custody, who's doing well, to remain in custody," she said.
Speaking in favor of the bill, Connor Boyak of the Libertas Institute said 18 year olds, in all other aspects of their lives, are "legal adults."
While youths can petition courts to leave foster care now, current law says the court may grant the petition. Under Jackson's bill, if certain conditions were met, judges would have to grant the petition, he said.
"Are we telling the judges they must" grant petitions? asked Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden.
"Yes," said Jackson.