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Guest opinion: Amid National Family Reunification Month, time for Utah to end the ‘terror’

By Rob Latham - | Jun 28, 2024

Courtesy photo

Rob Latham

June is National Family Reunification Month, which is intended to focus awareness on the restoration of family integrity following a separating, state action. Nationwide, a child’s return home is the most common, permanent outcome following a removal.

Over the past several years, 35 states have issued proclamations in support of National Family Reunification Month. The state of Utah is not among them.

The latest publicly available data for Utah shows that less than half (41%) of youth removed from the home of their birth parents or primary caretakers are granted a court order to come home.

Scholar Dorothy Roberts calls the system of family policing “benevolent terror.” It is easy to see why. When faced with the option of being either incarcerated or having their children endure the trauma of being forcibly removed from their home, how many parents would do whatever they could to avoid the latter?

Older Utahns may recall the conflict over then-compulsory schooling laws concerning John Singer’s family. That conflict not only culminated in Singer’s death by a Summit County deputy sheriff but later the death of Utah Department of Corrections Lt. Fred House, after whom a training academy was named, reverberating that unfortunate history.

Instead of supporting reunification, last month the incumbent governor called on our community to prop up the historically low levels of foster parents caring for children removed from their home by court order.

I have met some amazing resource parents who properly support children in their care and the goal of family reunification. Sadly, as investigative journalist Eli Hager has reported, “there is a growing national trend of foster parents undermining the foster system’s premise by ‘intervening’ in family court cases as a way to adopt children.”

It may be with the increased attention to the injustices of the family policing system that fewer potential resource parents are willing to be accomplices. I have spoken with several foster parents who complained of being misled by their DCFS caseworkers, and word gets around.

Also last month, the incumbent governor, in seeming alignment with those who would maintain a state of benevolent terror in Utah, nominated for three juvenile court vacancies attorneys with a track record of hanging the prospect of permanent family separation over the heads of under-resourced parents.

After a case I took to the Utah Court of Appeals resulted in a landmark decision affirming the rights of families against the foster-adoption industrial complex, one of Gov. Cox’s nominees, adoption attorney and juvenile court prosecutor Angela Adams, worked underhandedly to cancel my role in advocating for such families.

Despite careers undermining the fundamental liberty interest in family integrity supposedly protected by both U.S. constitutional and Utah statutory law, all three of these nominees were confirmed by the Utah Senate earlier this month.

In her book “Relinquished,” author Gretchen Sisson interweaves accounts of birth mothers swindled out of their newborns by those in the perversely incentivized toddler trade. Sisson debunks the narrative pushed by state and federal governments that funneling the domestic supply of infants into stranger care is preferable to birth family preservation and access to reproductive care without state interference. This Republic of Gilead-style patriarchal narrative is explored in Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Sisson also reminds us of section 53G-10-404 of the Utah Code requiring students to receive “an annual presentation on adoption … once during grades 7-9 and at least once during grades 10-12.”

Were it that such annual presentations included a reading of Australia’s National Apology for Forced Adoptions delivered by its then prime minister on March 21, 2013.

The family policing space is replete with vague and subjective terms masquerading as objective standards like “abuse,” “neglect,” “best interest of the child” and “reasonable efforts.”

The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform’s Richard Wexler recommends defining “reasonable efforts” to mean “active, effective efforts to avoid family separation and promote expeditious return of children who have been taken from their families.”

Counterintuitively, such returns home would jeopardize the federal funding the state of Utah receives under the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). The movement to repeal ASFA calls for the repurposing of funds used to care for children removed from their homes to improve the home life of a family in crisis so they could stay.

Of course, there are rare instances when a child should be separated from a dangerous environment. However, Utahns can begin the benevolent terror regime’s end by taking to heart the legislated aspiration that a “child’s need for a normal family life in a permanent home, and for positive, nurturing family relationships is usually best met by the child’s natural parents.”

Rob Latham advocated on behalf of young Utahns opposite Angela Adams in Washington County’s juvenile courts from 2014 to 2020 and is the Utah Libertarian Party’s 2024 candidate for governor (freeutahns.org).

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