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The trauma for children being removed from their homes because they've been abused at the hands of caregivers whom they should have been able to trust is almost unimaginable.

A Utah Division of Children and Family Services policy of putting these children in shelters instead of in the homes of grandparents or other family members or friends who are familiar to them is deplorable. The practice is especially onerous since it grew out of a misunderstanding of federal law, a grievous error that apparently was made by no other state agency in the country.

DCFS interpreted the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 to mean that all adoptive or foster parents, including family members, must undergo thorough criminal screenings before a child can be placed in their home.

That is simply not what the law states. Nevertheless, Utah statutes were changed to prevent abused children from going directly to the homes of grandparents and other close relatives. This faulty interpretation has put thousands of foster children into overcrowded shelters for weeks at a time, just when they are most in need of loving care from people they know and trust.

Duane Betournay, DCFS director, promises to get the Utah law reversed when the Legislature meets in January. That is thin gruel indeed. These vulnerable children with critical emotional needs still must wait weeks for background checks of relatives, while DCFS staffers are discouraged from placing them in short-term foster care, or even allowing overnight visits with relatives.

Betournay says new equipment to process fingerprints should make the screenings go faster. He should see that it does, while acting immediately to allow children to freely visit relatives or be placed in safe foster care until the background checks are completed. Also, relatives willing to take in abused children should get expedited foster-parent training.

Let's be clear. The DCFS foul-up that resulted in these still-intact policies makes the state itself guilty of heaping abuse on these imperiled children. And if that isn't cause for heads to roll, Gov. Huntsman, nothing is.