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The letter to Ianthus Barlow's parents is straightforward.

Written by an attorney, it asks his father and mother, members of a polygamous community at the Utah/Arizona border, to help support their boy.

Ianthus, 15, left home over a year ago and became part of a growing tribe of so-called Lost Boys, teens who have fled or been kicked out of their homes in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the base of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

In that December letter, attorney Roger Hoole wrote that Ianthus' parents are obligated to provide for their son, who has settled into a life of school and dates and Friday night football games.

So far there has been no response to the letter, the first Hoole has sent on behalf of a Lost Boy.

The question of parental responsibility arises often in regard to the Lost Boys, most recently during debate in the state Legislature on a bill that would allow teens in certain situations to seek emancipation. Referred to as the Lost Boy measure, HB30 allows teens 16 or older to petition a juvenile judge for independence based on the ability to manage their own affairs. The bill passed the House and Senate, then was returned to the House for its concurrence on an amendment. A final vote could come Monday.

The bill would make it easier for abandoned, runaway or homeless teens to enroll in school, get medical care, sign an apartment lease or even stay more than eight hours in a shelter, which now requires parental consent.

Juvenile judges already can make such determinations, but the statute would make that option more widely known and spell out how to go about it, said Kristin Brewer, director of the Guardian ad Litem's office. Twenty-nine states have similar laws.

No one expects there to be a deluge of kids seeking emancipation. For one thing, proving self-sufficiency is a high hurdle for most teens.

"It is really going to be those kids who can meet the test and are in a gap situation, like the Lost Boys," Brewer said.

Rep. Lorie D. Fowlke, R-Orem and a family law attorney, said she has had just one inquiry about emancipation of a minor in the 12 years she's been in practice.

Work experience: The Lost Boys, though, may be better equipped than many teens to make a go of it. Most were put to work at an early age, typically in construction trades.

Many boys say their education ended, often by their own choice, around fifth grade, yet some are now doing well in public school.

Estimates on the number of Lost Boys varies widely, from 400 to as many as 750 - the number state officials currently use. That count covers a decade, maybe more, and includes boys ranging in age from 13 to their early 20s.

The teens end up on their own for a variety of reasons: Some were kicked out when they started watching R-rated movies, hanging out with girls, smoking cigarettes or using drugs; others left because they wanted to do those things. Some lost faith in the FLDS religion and wanted out of its restrictive lifestyle. Some claim they are being driven away to lessen competition for plural wives.

The outflow has escalated in recent years as FLDS leader Warren Jeffs has cleansed his flock by expelling men he views as unworthy, then reassigned their wives and children to other men.

Many teens clump together in southern Utah and Wasatch Front cities, crowding in with older brothers or acquaintances who've also left the FLDS. A few have been taken in by LDS families.

Many have made their way to Dan Fischer, of Sandy, a dentist and entrepreneur who left the FLDS faith years ago. Fischer has employed the teens at his dental supply company, Ultradent Inc., and uses a nonprofit he created to help them out.

Dave Bills, coordinator for Fischer's Diversity Foundation, said he has 367 "bona fide" names of Lost Boys and that the foundation has given help in one form or another to about 100 kids.

He said Diversity has helped 31 teens restart their educations, either at the high school, GED or college level. Five boys and young men, including Ianthus, live with Fischer. The oldest is 22.

Fischer said he's spent about $30,000 of his own money, while his company and donations to the foundation have contributed more than $2 million to the cause.

"It gets exasperating for me that the state won't step in with at least any money," Bills said, adding that most of the boys don't qualify for existing state programs or services.

Which is why Bills and Fischer joined with Hoole on the emancipation bill, which the attorney describes as one "bookend" needed to help these teens. Hoole also represents six boys who have sued the FLDS church and its leaders for allegedly driving them from their homes and families.

"The emancipation bill is necessary because kids are getting kicked out and government is not enforcing existing laws to get them the support they need. Why? I don't know," Hoole said. "It would certainly be helpful to many of these young men if their parents would at least provide some basic support and help them get into public schools."

Bills said the state is "at fault because it is not enforcing the laws against polygamy. If we made all the parents there who kicked kids out or made them run away pay $200 to $300 a month in child support, it would stop the problem."

Added Fischer, "It puts a burden on surrounding societies."

Unwilling to testify: Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has a ready response as to why the state doesn't go after the boys' parents for abandonment or neglect.

"Bring us a victim who would testify," Shurtleff said. "We've asked over and over, 'Bring me a boy who wants to go after his parents.' "

The teens, he said, don't blame their parents for their predicament and fear going after them would destroy whatever relationships they still have. Worse, it could have repercussions for their families or siblings.

Ianthus, for example, is willing to go only so far in seeking his parents' help.

"If they have it [money] they should give it to Diversity instead of Warren Jeffs," he said. Jeffs has required followers to pay hefty tithes, said to be as much as $1,000 a month, to fund the church's operations.

But going to court? No way.

"I wouldn't take money from him because he's already scraping bottom," Ianthus said of his father.

There also are practical considerations, Shurtleff said, just as there are with taking on polygamy itself. "If I charge one, do I charge 800? Do I have the resources?"

Instead, Shurtleff said, the teens want him to go after Jeffs, whom they see as responsible for the turmoil in their lives.

As for the teens' parents, Shurtleff said, "It's not that they don't love them. They do it because their leader told them to do it. And if they are willing to do that, they are probably going to be willing to go to jail for that."

There's this, too: It may be that many parents would love for their sons to come home - provided they got back in line with the FLDS faith. Many boys talk about their heartbreak and especially that of their mothers.

Gary Engels, an investigator with the Mohave County (Ariz.) Attorney's office, has had little luck finding victims who are willing to testify.

Even so, he said, "Most of the things we are doing here are because it's the right thing to do, not necessarily because we have someone who is going to come forward and testify. It's a Catch-22."

Meantime, Hoole is pressing forward with the other "bookend," a bill that would create penalties for engaging in or fostering acts of bigamy that result in a child being alienated from his or her natural parents or disrupt the relationship between that child's parents.

Many Lost Boys, for example, fled home after Jeffs banished their biological fathers, then reassigned their mothers to other men. Hoole said it should be illegal "for anybody to kick out their children or split families up to further and aid the unlawful practice of polygamy."

He has talked to several lawmakers and even drafted legislation. "We didn't get it going in this Legislature," he said, but he expects to next year.

One key provision is that the boys wouldn't have to bear witness against their parents.

"Who would have ever thought we needed a law to punish someone for destroying a family?" Fischer asked.

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