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Cox calls on Utahns to consider foster care amid largest shortage of approved families in decades

The governor of Utah. Spencer Cox and First Lady Abby Cox are calling on Utahns to consider foster care amid the largest shortage of approved families in decades, May 28, 2024. (Screenshot from live stream)

It’s been decades since Utah experienced a similar crisis; the number of foster parents is at an all-time low, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said Tuesday. Now he and first lady Abby Cox are calling on Utahns to consider opening their doors to foster children.

There are 1,756 children who need foster care in Utah, said Nikki MacKay, CEO of Utah Foster Care. But only 822 families are authorized to welcome them. This is the lowest figure the state has seen in 25 years.

Cox is following in the footsteps of former Gov. Mike Leavitt, he said, who responded to this crisis by calling a news conference and sending letters to religious leaders to share the message with their congregation.

“We live in the most generous state in the country. We live in the most religious state in the country. Whether you are religious or not, we live in a state that cares about giving back and caring for our neighbors,” Cox said.

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He hopes that with the help of communities, Utah can reverse a pervasive trend across the country.

“We truly believe that Utah can become the first state where families are waiting for children, instead of children waiting for families,” Cox said, noting that while it is one of the hardest jobs , it is rewarding.

Abby Cox added that while foster care is not for everyone, a foster parent can come from any background; they may be single or married, homeowners or renters, LGBTQ, religious or non-religious, families with or without children, or empty nesters.

“I think it would shock a lot of you to know that there are children without families in this state, in Utah,” she said. “And that is our call today.”

Children over 9 and those in sibling groups have the greatest need for foster care in the state, she said.

The majority of children have siblings, 1 in 3 are teenagers, 1 in 4 are Latino and 1 in 3 identify as LGBTQ, MacKay said. Many of them hope to return home to their families, while others are waiting to be adopted.

When there is a shortage of families to care for them, children end up staying in dormitories. In other states, children stayed in hotels or their caseworkers’ offices.

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“We don’t want to see that here in Utah.” Outcomes are better for children when they have options that best meet their individual needs. And we know that children do better when they are with family,” MacKay said. “The children of Utah need you and we need you.”

During the press conference, advocates, faith leaders, foster parents and former foster children spoke about the challenges and joys of the experience. Natalie Clark was one of them.

Clark spent a few crucial years between foster homes. She learned how to clean a house, wash her clothes the right way and condition her hair halfway up and not on the scalp from the families who welcomed her into their homes, she said.

There are impacts on both sides of the equation, she said. She had space to grow and learn. Her families have an exceptional big sister and an active participant in all the games at the park.

Her community came along when they needed it most, and she is now an advocate for other children in the foster care system.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean forever and I think that’s the beauty of it. Even if just for one season, the learning, the connection, the trust can be unbreakable, unforgettable and irreplaceable,” Clark said. “It’s not forever, but for me, foster care is my forever village. My forever people and my forever cheerleaders.

More information about foster care is available at Utahfostercare.org.

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