Title 62A Chapter 4a Section 201

Utah Human Services Code
Child and Family Services
Section 201
Rights of parents -- Children's rights -- Interest and responsibility of state.


62A-4a-201.   Rights of parents -- Children's rights -- Interest and responsibility of state.

            (1) (a) Under both the United States Constitution and the constitution of this state, a parent possesses a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and management of the parent's children. A fundamentally fair process must be provided to parents if the state moves to challenge or interfere with parental rights. A governmental entity must support any actions or allegations made in opposition to the rights and desires of a parent regarding the parent's children by sufficient evidence to satisfy a parent's constitutional entitlement to heightened protection against government interference with the parent's fundamental rights and liberty interests.

            (b) The fundamental liberty interest of a parent concerning the care, custody, and management of the parent's children is recognized, protected, and does not cease to exist simply because a parent may fail to be a model parent or because the parent's child is placed in the temporary custody of the state. At all times, a parent retains a vital interest in preventing the irretrievable destruction of family life. Prior to an adjudication of unfitness, government action in relation to parents and their children may not exceed the least restrictive means or alternatives available to accomplish a compelling state interest. Until the state proves parental unfitness, the child and the child's parents share a vital interest in preventing erroneous termination of their natural relationship and the state cannot presume that a child and the child's parents are adversaries.

            (c) It is in the best interest and welfare of a child to be raised under the care and supervision of the child's natural parents. 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. Additionally, the integrity of the family unit and the right of parents to conceive and raise their children are constitutionally protected. The right of a fit, competent parent to raise the parent's child without undue government interference is a fundamental liberty interest that has long been protected by the laws and Constitution and is a fundamental public policy of this state.

            (d) The state recognizes that:

            (i) a parent has the right, obligation, responsibility, and authority to raise, manage, train, educate, provide for, and reasonably discipline the parent's children; and

            (ii) the state's role is secondary and supportive to the primary role of a parent.

            (e) It is the public policy of this state that parents retain the fundamental right and duty to exercise primary control over the care, supervision, upbringing, and education of their children.

            (f) Subsections (2) through (7) shall be interpreted and applied consistent with this Subsection (1).

            (2) It is also the public policy of this state that children have the right to protection from abuse and neglect, and that the state retains a compelling interest in investigating, prosecuting, and punishing abuse and neglect, as defined in this chapter, and in Title 78A, Chapter 6, Juvenile Court Act of 1996. Therefore, the state, as parens patriae, has an interest in and responsibility to protect children whose parents abuse them or do not adequately provide for their welfare. There may be circumstances where a parent's conduct or condition is a substantial departure from the norm and the parent is unable or unwilling to render safe and proper parental care and protection. Under those circumstances, the state may take action for the welfare and protection of the parent's children.

            (3) When the division intervenes on behalf of an abused, neglected, or dependent child, it shall take into account the child's need for protection from immediate harm and the extent to which the child's extended family may provide needed protection. Throughout its involvement, the division shall utilize the least intrusive and least restrictive means available to protect a child, in an effort to ensure that children are brought up in stable, permanent families, rather than in temporary foster placements under the supervision of the state.

            (4) When circumstances within the family pose a threat to the child's immediate safety or welfare, the division may seek custody of the child for a planned period and place the child in a safe environment, subject to the requirements of this section and in accordance with the requirements of Title 78A, Chapter 6, Part 3, Abuse, Neglect, and Dependency Proceedings, and:

            (a) when safe and appropriate, return the child to the child's parent; or

            (b) as a last resort, pursue another permanency plan.

            (5) In determining and making "reasonable efforts" with regard to a child, pursuant to the provisions of Section 62A-4a-203, both the division's and the court's paramount concern shall be the child's health, safety, and welfare. The desires of a parent for the parent's child, and the constitutionally protected rights of a parent, as described in this section, shall be given full and serious consideration by the division and the court.

            (6) In cases where actual sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, abandonment, severe abuse, or severe neglect are established, the state has no duty to make "reasonable efforts" or to, in any other way, attempt to maintain a child in the child's home, provide reunification services, or to attempt to rehabilitate the offending parent or parents. This Subsection (6) does not exempt the division from providing court-ordered services.

            (7) (a) The division shall strive to achieve appropriate permanency for children who are abused, neglected, or dependent. The division shall provide in-home services, where appropriate and safe, in an effort to help a parent to correct the behavior that resulted in abuse, neglect, or dependency of the parent's child. If in-home services fail or are otherwise insufficient or inappropriate, the division shall also seek qualified extended family support or a kinship placement to maintain a sense of security and stability for the child. If in-home services and kinship placement are not safe or appropriate, or in-home services and kinship placement fail and cannot be corrected, the division may pursue a foster placement.

            (b) If the use or continuation of "reasonable efforts," as described in Subsections (5) and (6), is determined to be inconsistent with the permanency plan for a child, then measures shall be taken, in a timely manner, to place the child in accordance with the permanency plan, and to complete whatever steps are necessary to finalize the permanent placement of the child.

            (c) Subject to the parental rights recognized and protected under this section, if, because of a parent's conduct or condition, the parent is determined to be unfit or incompetent based on the grounds for termination of parental rights described in Title 78A, Chapter 6, Part 5, Termination of Parental Rights Act, the continuing welfare and best interest of the child is of paramount importance, and shall be protected in determining whether that parent's rights should be terminated.

            (8) The state's right to direct or intervene in the provision of medical or mental health care for a child is subject to Subsection 78A-6-117(2)(n).

Amended by Chapter 281, 2012 General Session