New focus • Agency will work more with families rather than put kids in state's custody.
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More money will be used for programs designed to keep at-risk Utah children at home instead of taking them into foster care after the Department of Child and Family Services was granted a waiver allowing the department to use federal funds in new ways.
The department's federal funds were restricted to foster care, which meant the state had to pay for in-home services that kept the family intact. But the waiver announced Wednesday will allow officials to shift an estimated $1.5 million over five years from the foster care budget to in-home services. The total DCFS budget was about $153 million in fiscal year 2012.
The move fits with the department's shifting focus on keeping more families together, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Sollis.
That model "takes a hard look at what the family's needs are, how the child can best excel, and how we can do that with keeping kids in the home when possible," she said. "We're trying to avoid taking them into state custody."
The shift comes after a state audit found the number of children in Utah's foster care system has climbed 38 percent over the last decade, bucking national trends. Keeping families together can be better for children, and is much less expensive for taxpayers each foster care case costs about $46,000 compared to about $1,700 for in-home services, according to state auditors.
Utah applied for the waiver under a new law co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"This is a big step forward to allowing the hardworking men and women at Utah's Department of Human Services and across the state to provide more of the resources they need to improve the lives of Utahns," Hatch said in a statement.