"We told you so" is an obnoxious utterance, but it did not require clairvoyance to foresee a negative backlash to letters the state sent to Utahns who were reported as potential child abusers. Notification unfairly caught many of them by surprise.
The letters were the result of 200,000 records of abuse allegations gathered by the Division of Child and Family Services over the past 10 years. Notice was sent by July 1 to 9,900 people who may be guilty as charged or completely innocent, which is the problem. The process was an insulting reversal to the concept of being innocent until proven guilty.All it may have taken for someone to be on the list was a telephone call of accusation. The complaint could have been legitimate, but it may have been filed by a disgruntled ex-spouse, vindictive neighbor, angry employee or upset-but-unharmed child.
Included in each letter was an invitation to schedule an administrative hearing to clear one's name. As was predicted on this page June 29, fallout from this backward methodology has been intense. DCFS is receiving some 50 calls to schedule appeals daily. Angry recipients caught off guard want to know how to go about clearing their names.
That kind of feedback actually was the goal of the notification campaign. In that sense it is working. Due process will be granted, but there should have been a better and certainly more immediate way to break the news concerning accusations. And even with the large number contacted, a sizable number of people are not accessible. The division is unable to locate many people in the database. Others refuse to accept the certified letters. More than 3,000 notices have been returned thus far.
Any of those people who contact the state before Dec. 1 and request a hearing will be given one. Others will remain on the database until future legislative action.
Concern about this entire process and its resultant resentment and anger should be directed toward the Legislature, which gave DCFS the mandate to update the large list and a deadline for doing so. It should have given the division adequate resources to investigate and follow up on allegations without using a scattershot approach. This may lead to more accurate records, but it wounds too many innocent citizens while doing so.