Juvenile Justice

Years of inadequate public investment have left Utah families struggling with many unmet needs. Our schools require better funding to hire more teachers, counselors, and nurses. We need affordable child care for both our cities and rural areas, along with affordable housing, cleaner air, and much more.

So why are our state leaders so determined to eliminate the primary source of funding for our public education system and other community services that help kids and their families?

Between 2018 to 2024, the state legislature cut the state income tax four times, from 5% to 4.55%. Our leaders act like they are doing us all a favor, reducing our income taxes by a few dozen dollars each year - but these seemingly small cuts have resulted in an annual revenue loss of over $800M. 

Now, Utah’s legislative leaders are clear about their intentions to eliminate the income tax entirely.

“Ultimately what they (legislative leaders) want to do and what I want to do is get rid of the income tax completely.” - Governor Spencer Cox, December 2023
“I’ve said forever, if there is a way, we’d like to try to actually remove the income tax.” - Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, March 2024
 “I want to focus on continuing to reduce income tax. Let’s also continue to have the discussion on getting rid of the income tax all together.” - Utah House Speaker Mike Schultz, January 2024

 

However extreme and unrealistic these plans might seem, don’t doubt that they will try to do it. This year’s Interim Study Items include studying alternatives to the income tax. 

The Consequences

Eliminating the income tax in Utah would further reduce funding for essential services, leading to devastating cuts affecting education, healthcare, and social services. This could mean decreased compensation for educators, fewer family resources, and longer wait times for assistance. The majority of Utahns do not want lower taxes if it means lower-quality services. Income tax cuts don’t make states more prosperous or competitive, and they don’t help families make ends meet.

Proponents of eliminating the income tax have yet to propose any viable plan to replace the enormous revenue loss that will follow. Only one state, Alaska, has ever eliminated its income tax, and it did so only after striking oil.

An Unfair Tax System

A fair tax system relies on a balanced approach, combining property tax, sales tax, and income tax to ensure stability, fairness, and responsiveness. The income tax is meant to represent the leg of fairness, ensuring that wealthy households pay their fair share

Eliminating the income tax does not ensure that large corporations and the wealthiest residents pay their fair share in taxes. In fact, the benefits of income tax cuts overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. Eliminating the income tax would provide a benefit of $121,514 to the top 1% of Utahns, but only provide $121 to the lowest-income 20%. 

In recent years, wealthy corporations have enjoyed record profits, but aren’t paying their fair share in taxes. Further tax cuts mean they will pay even less. If the wealthy and corporations paid their fair share, we could expand opportunities to everyone, by investing in quality education, cleaner air, child care, and healthcare.

Utah's Values

Utahns believe in taking care of each other no matter what. But the recent years of revenue elimination have prioritized the wealthy and corporations instead. Now, over 60% of Utahns feel the state is on the wrong track, and that quality of life is worse than it was five years ago. Continuing to starve the state budget for critical public services, such as public education and highway safety, will not reverse that sentiment. 

State leaders should focus on strengthening the vital services that make sure working people, small businesses, and families have the tools to build a good life. It's time to prioritize the well-being of all Utahns over short-sighted tax cuts for the wealthy.

Published in News & Blog

Our team at Voices for Utah Children is proud to support juvenile justice reforms in Utah that are more effective and efficient for all involved. Recently, we’ve actively engaged in advocacy for reform since 2016, when state leadership embarked on a full-scale evaluation of Utah’s juvenile justice system at that time. 

As the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government convened a wide-ranging group of experienced professionals and system experts, Voices joined with multiple other community-based non-profit organizations to articulate “Guiding Principles for Juvenile Justice Reform in Utah.”

Our number one guiding principle for reform was to “promote the critical role of early, non-criminal-justice intervention in the lives of young people, for the purpose of avoiding future justice involvement.”

This principle leads us to approach juvenile justice policy analysis and advocacy not by asking, “What is wrong with these kids?” but by asking, “What is going on with these kids?”

The vast majority of young people engaged in misconduct are acting out due to underlying issues that have not been addressed, such as:

  • Serious childhood trauma such as sexual, physical and emotional abuse, including harms caused by another child;
  • Undiagnosed and unsupported learning disabilities or mental health issues;
  • Homelessness and housing insecurity;
  • Family disruptions resulting in lack of support and supervision, such as substance abuse by primary guardians or absence of caring adults due to refugee or immigration status;
  • Food insecurity and other poverty-related challenges; and more. 

Why Early Intervention?

Ensuring early intervention is the most cost-effective and productive way to ensure that children never engage in criminal activity to begin with. This is the best path not only for a young person who might have otherwise harmed other people and their own community, but for those who might have been harmed.

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(From Utah Juvenile Justice & Youth Services FY2022 Presentation)

Our communities are safest when children don’t act out in the first place. That is one reason that our organization advocates so strenuously for all Utah children to have access to food, shelter, health care and early education opportunities. These are preventative factors.

We also advocate for public policies that engender greater stability in the homes of young people, so they have fewer risk factors for antisocial behavior. Such policies include cash assistance for struggling families with children, access to health care for adults in the household, and help finding and paying for quality childcare so parents can work.

Harshly punishing young people with hundreds of hours of community service, fines they can’t pay, or isolation in a locked detention facility with other troubled children does not cultivate a sense of accountability and remorse.

In fact, over-punishment can actually make children more likely to reoffend, which is terrible for public safety.

Providing early access to interventions for young people who are struggling produces much better results. Harsher penalties also do not actually help those harmed by a youth’s antisocial behavior. A better approach is to ensure that as many young people as possible have their basic needs met, so their reasons for acting out are greatly diminished.

Children Are Not Adults

The juvenile justice system is structured differently than the adult criminal justice system, because children are not the same as adults. Research from the past several decades shows that the brains of most young people do not stop growing and developing until they are in their mid-20s. For this reason, our legal system has chosen to approach juvenile justice differently, with a greater emphasis on intervention and rehabilitation. 

Most teenagers get into trouble for something during their formative years. Shoplifting, sexting, experimenting with drugs, getting in physical fights and skipping school are common mistakes made by young people finding their way into adulthood. Penalties for children should take into account that almost every human being does “dumb stuff” while growing up. Over-criminalization of these behaviors do not prevent young people from getting lured into them. Teenagers rarely know the legal penalties for their misconduct, and they lack the judgment to fully weigh how their future will be impacted by their behavior. 

Disparities in the System  

One serious issue that juvenile justice reform in Utah still has not been able to address, are the dramatic racial disparities that occur at each step of our juvenile justice system.

Research shows that children of color are much more likely to receive harsh penalties for misconduct than their white peers. What is understood as “age appropriate acting out” when a white child does it, is more often interpreted as “evidence of criminal character” when that very same behavior is exhibited by a child or color.

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(From Striving for Racial Equity in Utah's Juvenile Justice System, 2020)

We object to policy proposals structured around harsh penalties, because we know those penalties are much more likely to hurt children and families of color, due to persistent racial injustice in our society. We believe that moving forward in a different way offers the best chance to address these disparities. 

A Better Way Forward

Not all misconduct can be addressed by low-level interventions. Some children cause serious harm to others. There are children who leave families mourning and in pain. Taking a life, or perpetrating sexual abuse, are serious crimes for which our most serious interventions, including detention and secure care, should be reserved. Those who are hurt by serious offenses deserve real support, such as counseling and financial support, not just dramatic penalties that risk creating public safety issues for others in the future. 

We try to advocate for policies that are shaped by the most up-to-date research, expert recommendations and actual data. Sometimes, this information changes, and we must reshape the ways in which we pursue the most positive outcomes for children.

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(From 2023 Juvenile Reform Report, System Trends 2023 Juvenile Reform Report, System Trends)

Our state’s own research shows that the “old way” of doing things is unnecessarily expensive, is ineffective at reducing reoffending, and is more likely to engender resentment than remorse. Going backward will not help Utah children. We have to keep moving forward, with new knowledge and best practices, in order to best serve our kids. 

If you have questions about this blog post, please contact  or anna@utahchildrenAnnual Juvenile Reform Reports can be accessed through our state's Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice website here

Published in News & Blog

The 2024 Utah Legislative Session ended at midnight on Friday, March 1. For the Voices for Utah Children team, this session included supporting a lot of community engagement, working hard to protect the programs that protect Utah kids, and trying not to get distracted by outlandish efforts to "solve" problems that don't actually exist in Utah.

As usual, there were many, many missed opportunities for state leaders to improve the lives of Utah kids. Nonetheless, we managed to pull off some great victories - as always, in partnership with many supportive community members, our great partner organizations and supportive public servants.

We hosted six different public engagement events at the Capitol over seven weeks. Working closely with our community partners, we stopped some truly terrible legislation that literally threatened the lives of Utah kids who rely on Medicaid and CHIP. Thanks to many supportive child care professionals and working parents, we kept Utah's child care crisis in the media spotlight throughout the session. 

For a deeper dive into our efforts in various policy areas, as well as a recap of what happened to the many different bills we were tracking, check out the virtual booklet below! 

Download a Copy

The original version of this legislative recap misidentified the city of residence of a member of the Utah State Legislature. This has been corrected. For more information, please contact .

Published in News & Blog
January 10, 2024

Our 2024 Legislative Agenda

At Voices for Utah Children, we always start with this guiding question: "Is it good for all kids?" That remains our north star at the outset of the 2024 legislative session, and is reflected in our top legislative priorities.

So, what’s good for all kids in 2024?

A Healthy Start!

A healthy start in life ensures a child's immediate well-being while laying a foundation for future success. We are steadfast in our commitment to championing policies that prioritize every child's physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Central to this commitment is our focus on improving Utah’s popular Medicaid and CHIP programs, which are pivotal in the lives of many Utah children and families. 

This legislative session, a healthy start for kids looks like:

  • Empowering Expectant Mothers: We support a proposal from Rep. Ray Ward (R-Bountiful) to increase access to health coverage for low-income and immigrant mothers-to-be.
  • Increasing Access to Health Care: We support bills that aim to improve access to the vital healthcare services children and parents need, especially for those on Medicaid and CHIP.
  • Protecting Health Coverage: We oppose any effort to defund, and exclude deserving children from, the Medicaid and CHIP programs that help thousands of Utah kids every year. 

Early Learning and Care Opportunities!

The formative years of a child's life lay the foundation for their future, shaping their cognitive abilities, socio-emotional skills, and passion for learning. We will support efforts to increase access to home visiting programs and paid family leave, but ensuring consistent, quality, and affordable child care is our top priority.

This legislative session, early learning and care opportunities for kids looks like:

  • Bolstering Access to Quality Child Care: We support the efforts of both Rep. Andrew Stoddard (D-Sandy) and Rep. Ashlee Matthews (D-Kearns) to extend the successful Office of Child Care stabilization grant program that has supported licensed child care programs statewide.
  • Investing in High-Quality Preschool: We support an anticipated legislative proposal to streamline Utah’s existing high-quality school-readiness program and to make it available to more preschoolers statewide. 
  • Recruiting and Retaining Child Care Professionals: We support Rep. Matthews’ proposal to expand access to the Child Care Assistance Program for anyone working in the child care sector.
  • Building New Child Care Businesses: We also support Rep. Matthews’ proposal to continue funding for work to develop and support new child care programs in rural, urban, and suburban areas.

To view a more comprehensive list of our 2024 early care and learning legislative priorities, click here

Economic Stability for Families with Children!

Economic stability forms the bedrock of thriving families and vibrant communities. To ensure that young families in Utah have the support they need to afford basic necessities, we will advocate for increasing families’ access to Utah's earned income and child tax credits.

This legislative session, economic stability for families looks like: 

  • A Little Extra Help in the Early Years: We support HB 153, Rep. Susan Pulsipher’s (R-South Jordan) bill to expand Utah’s new Child Tax Credit, (currently only for children ages 1 to 3), to apply to children between 1 and 5 years of age. We also strongly recommend helping even more Utah families with young children by making the tax credit available for families with any child between birth and 5, and expanding it to include the thousands of lower- and moderate-income families who are currently excluded.
  • Credit for Working Families with Kids: We support HB 149, Rep. Marsha Judkins’ (R-Provo) bill to expand Utah’s Earned Income Tax Credit so that more lower- and middle-income families with children can benefit. 

Justice for Youth!

We want to ensure that all youth, including those who come into contact with the juvenile justice system, have access to interventions and supports that work for them and for their families. We are dedicated to advancing policies and recommendations that contribute to a more fair and equitable juvenile justice system for all Utah youth.

This legislative session, justice for youth looks like:

  • Prioritizing School Safety: We are monitoring bills from Rep. Wilcox (R-Ogden) and the School Safety Task Force, including: HB 14, “School Threat Penalty Amendments” and HB 84, “School Safety Amendments.” We remain hopeful that these efforts will support a secure learning environment for all students, without contributing further to the School-to-Prison Pipeline. 

Be an Advocate!

As we chart the path forward, one thing remains abundantly clear: the well-being, growth, and future of Utah's children rely on the decisions we make today. Each legislative session presents an opportunity—a chance to reaffirm our commitment, reevaluate our priorities, and reimagine a brighter, more inclusive future for all. 

Together we can continue to make Utah a place where every child's potential is realized, their dreams are nurtured, and their voices are heard.

Below are some ways you can get involved this session. 

Stay Informed with our Bill Tracker

Stay informed about important legislation we are watching and reach out to your local representatives to let them know how you feel about legislation that is important to you. We make it easy for you to subscribe and watch bills that you are most concerned about. 

VIEW TRACKER

 

Join us for Legislative Session Days on the Hill

Join us at the Capitol, where we offer attendees the opportunity to engage in the legislative process on a specific issue area (health and/or child care). You'll have the chance to attend bill hearings, lobby your legislators, connect with fellow community advocates, and watch House and Senate floor debates. Click the button below for the dates/times of our meetings and to RSVP.

RSVP TODAY

 

Celebrate Utah's Immigrant Community 

In collaboration with our partners at UT With All Immigrants, the Center for Economic Opportunity and Belonging, and I Stand with Immigrants, we are organizing Immigrant Day on the Hill. Join us to discover ways to engage in Utah's civic life. Enjoy food, explore resource tables, participate in interactive activities, and entertainment. Everyone is invited to attend this free event!

Event Details: February 13, 2024, 3:30pm-5:30pm at the Capitol Rotunda, 350 State St, Salt Lake City, UT 84103

RSVP TODAY

Published in News & Blog

The care for the children in our state and communities can be measured by our public investment in our smallest humans. From the fiscal year 2008 to 2022, Voices for Utah Children divided all state programs concerning children into seven categories, without regard to their location within the structure of state government to quantify the level of public funding and identify trends. The seven categories are:

  1. K-12 Education
  2. Health
  3. Food & Nutrition
  4. Early Childhood Education
  5. Child Welfare
  6. Juvenile Justice
  7. Income Support

An appendix of our tables, sources, methodology and description of programs can be found here. 

How Much We Spend

The interactive circle chart below compares how much we spend by category, program, and source of funding, just use the filter and click the category to zoom in.

  • K-12 Education makes up 92% of the state-funded portion of the Children’s Budget, while the federal-funded portion is more diversified across categories.

Spending Trends

We compare the budget to FY2008 because that was a peak year in the economic cycle before The Great Recession and all figures have been adjusted for inflation, so they are comparable across time.

  • From FY2008 to FY2022, total public investment in children increased by 43%, growing much faster than Utah’s public-school enrollment (district & charter schools) by 26%, or the child population ages 0-17 by 13% from 2008-2021.

The federal share of the Children's Budget has fluctuated between 18-26% but had its biggest increase at the beginning of the Great Recession and the Covid-19 Pandemic. This is also when state funding for the Children's Budget has declined, for example real state & local K-12 education funding fell by $206 million since FY2020, the largest two-year decline since the Great Recession in 2008-2010. Several years after the Great Recession the federal share of the Children’s Budget decreased and the state share started to increase again, something that will hopefully happen again as pandemic relief funding rolls back. 

Funding Sources: Federal vs. State

When the categories are disaggregated by source of funding, Food & Nutrition, Income Support, Health, and Early Childhood Education programs are mainly funded by federal sources, and Child Welfare, K-12 Education, and Juvenile Justice programs are funded mainly by state sources. And since Amendment G passed and allowed the income tax to be used to fund programs for children (in addition to K-12 and some Early Childhood Education & Nutrition Programs), the Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice, and Health categories are funded primarily by the income tax. In FY2022, 98% of Juvenile Justice, 100% of Child Welfare, and 88% of Health categories of the state funded Children's Budget were funded by the income tax totaling to $475 M.

When examining the state-funded portion of the budget since FY2008 each category has a different story. 

  • Juvenile Justice programs declined the most in dollar amount, $32.9 M or 28% mainly due to a reduction in correctional facility and rural programs and it also had an increase in early intervention services which advocates consider to be a goal of juvenile justice reform.
  • Child Welfare programs declined by 16% or $21.8 M, mainly from the Service Delivery program which funds caseworkers to deliver child welfare, youth, and domestic violence services. 
  • Income Support declined 49% or $2.1 M and appears to be more cyclical, rising and falling with the Great Recession. Interestingly, the TANF grant is a mix of state and federal funds, and only a small amount goes to Income Support or cash assistance.[i]  
  • Food & Nutrition increased by 56% or $19.7 M due to an increase in liquor & wine tax revenues which supports the school lunch program.
  • Early Childhood Education had the largest percentage increase of 109% or $42.0 M mainly from the Upstart program but increasing in every program except Child Care Assistance.
  • Health has increased by 80% or $139.3 M from the Medicaid and CHIP program but also had a 58% or $12.4 M decrease in Maternal & Child Health. 
  • The category that has increased the most in dollar amount is K-12 Education.

K-12 Education Funding

State and local sourced funding for K-12 education increased by $1.6 billion in constant 2022 dollars from FY2008 to FY2022, but per-pupil spending only increased from $10,212 to $10,537 per student. This means that even though more is being spent in total dollars, it barely covers the increase in students during the same time.

In 1948, 100% of the income tax was allocated to public education, an increase from 75% when it was originally imposed in 1931. It was expanded in 1996 to include higher education, in 2021 to include non-education services for children and people with a disability, and may be expanded again depending on a 2024 ballot measure placed by the Utah Legislature.  

The income tax rate has been reduced in 1996, 2006, 2008, 2018, 2022, and 2023.  The graphs below illustrate a timeline of these changes and Utah’s total elementary and secondary public schools (district & charter) funding effort (including capital) as a percentage of personal income and rank compared to other states.

Unfortunately, the result is a downward trajectory and likely explains our second to last place in per-pupil funding in the country.[ii]

Utah's Education Funding Effort as a Percent of Personal Income

graph1

 

According to the fiscal notes, the last two bills that reduced the Income Tax rate in 2022 and 2023 estimated a loss of $1.3 billion in the Income Tax Fund from FY2022-2025 with more ongoing.[iii]

State & Local Funded Portion of K-12 Education

Another result of these changes has been shifts in the funding source for K-12 education. From the fiscal year 2008 to 2022, the federal-funded portion increased by 74% and the state-funded portion declined by 3%.

Meanwhile, Local sources have increased by 12%, possibly to meet the needs of their communities while state-funded sources decline and putting greater pressure on sources like the property tax which is more regressive than the income tax because it takes a greater toll on low-and middle-income families.

Rank of Utah's Education Funding Effort Compared to Other States

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We Need to Prioritize Children in the Budget

While Utah doesn’t have the most kids than any other state, we do have the highest share of kids in our population. And we as a community are entrusted to make sure they are cared for, safe, and have the tools they need to achieve their aspirations. As the Utah Legislature drafts, holds hearings on, debates, and passes the Utah state budget we hope they prioritize our most vulnerable and precious group, Utah’s children.

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[i] https://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/tanf_spending_ut.pdf 

[ii] https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances.html 

[iii] https://le.utah.gov/~2022/bills/static/SB0059.html, https://le.utah.gov/~2023/bills/static/HB0054.html These fiscal notes show the loss from the income tax fund but they are not disaggregated by changes from the income tax rate or tax credit portion of the bills.

Published in News & Blog

This October we celebrate Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM), a month of bringing awareness to and encouraging and inspiring action on behalf of young people that have and are currently being impacted by our criminal justice system.

Voices is committed to advocating for a more fair and equitable juvenile justice system and do so through assessing current juvenile justice policies and practices as well as partnering with the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice on key initiatives.

Below you will find recommendations for system involved youth and their families when interacting with the court system, along with other information and research in support of a more equitable juvenile justice system.

We also invite you to join us on October 20th as we celebrate Youth Justice Action Month with an online showcase highlighting and elevating youth voices including those that have had experience in the juvenile justice system. 


Recommendations for Utah Policymakers, Courts, and Youth & Families 


In August, we released a new report, Who's Helping Kids in Utah Courts? in which we assessed Utah's system for ensuring that all children in juvenile delinquency court are being represented by a defense attorney through a series of court observations.

The report had some good news to celebrate including that over the past two years, Utah children appearing in juvenile court without a defense attorney decreased from 33% statewide to less than 5%, revealing that Utah children now almost never waive their right to an attorney. 

Furthermore, our findings lead to several recommendations for policy makers, the juvenile courts, and youth and their families that are system involved. These recommendations are available in both English and Spanish. 

Who's Helping Kids in Utah Courts?: Executive Summary & Recommendations  English | Spanish


Juvenile Record Expungement Clinic (Register by Friday, October 8) 


Expungement Flyer

We are pleased to partner with the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice & Utah Juvenile Defender Attorneys in their efforts to provide a virtual juvenile delinquency record expungement clinic on October 29, 2021 and is providing FREE assistance with applications for expungement.

The clinic is open to individuals with juvenile delinquency cases which were originally processed in Salt Lake County, Tooele County or Summit County.

The deadline to apply is October 8th. Space is limited and registration is required. Register today at: bit.ly/expunge123 Questions? Please email

And Yet We Rise: October 20, 2021 at 3:30pm 


yjam 2

In recognition of October as Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM), we have partnered with the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice to host a free, public, virtual event at 3:30pm on October 20, 2021. And Yet We Rise will elevate the voices of young people, including those who have experience in the juvenile justice system, through a variety of formats interwoven into an online showcase. Leaders, both youth and adult, will be awarded for their service and commitment to the juvenile justice system. Register here today! 


Recent Reports and Information 


Below is a list of recent publications in regards to supporting a more equitable juvenile justice system in Utah. 


Racial & Ethnic Disparities Advisory Committee


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The Utah Board of Juvenile Justice (UBJJ) has a state Racial and Ethnic Disparities Advisory Committee that is dedicated to addressing racial and ethnic disparities at key points in the youth justice system. The committee has county-level working groups in areas with the highest concentration of youth of color: Salt Lake, Utah, and Weber. If you are passionate about youth justice and would like to get involved, please contact Alyssha Dairsow at

Published in News & Blog

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We are proud to release a new report on Utah's system for ensuring that all children appearing in juvenile delinquency court are represented by a defense attorney. And we are happy to report that there is some good news to celebrate in this area of our advocacy work! 

In the past two years, the frequency of Utah children appearing in juvenile court without a defense attorney has decreased from about 33% statewide to less than 5%. This new report reveals that Utah children now almost never waive their right to an attorney.

"Who's Helping Kids in Court?" is a follow-up to our 2019 report, "And Justice For All...Kids: A Child's Right to the 'Guiding Hand of Counsel and the State of Defense Representation for Children in Utah's Juvenile Courts," which also explored the issue of whether children in Utah delinquency courts are being given the legal support to which they are entitled. 

Read and/or download the full report here. 

The right of young people to be represented by an attorney in delinquency court proceedings was established in the landmark case In Gault, 387 US 1 (1967). In that case, the Supreme Court articulated that multiple due process rights must be afforded to children who are facing charges in a juvenile court. 

Despite the clearly established rights of young people, both under Gault and in subsequent important legal decisions, many states - including Utah - have struggled for decades to put these promised protections in practice. As this update report shows, though, major policy changes made between 2018 and 2020 appear to have had a very positive impact on the practical fulfillment of Utah children’s right to an attorney.

The key findings presented in this report, for which our team of court observers viewed more than 250 distinct juvenile court hearings across the state, are as follows: 

  • Overwhelmingly, young people appearing in juvenile delinquency hearings did not waive their right to be represented by an attorney.
  • Juvenile delinquency hearings rarely proceeded without defense counsel present, regardless of where the hearing was held in the state.
  • While Utah’s juvenile court judges rarely needed to explain the right to counsel to youth appearing in their (virtual) courtrooms, they regularly reviewed other key rights.
  • Defense attorney attendance at hearings does not necessarily translate into quality legal counsel for the young people they represent.

Children who have a defense attorney almost always have better legal outcomes in delinquency court than those who don’t. Because court involvement can have lifelong impacts for youth, we have worked with many partners over the past two years to pass positive legislation and enact better practices. "Who's Helping Kids in Court?" shows that these changes, particularly the passage of SB32 during the 2019 legislative session, have worked to vastly improve Utah's ability to ensure children receive the legal representation to which they are legally entitled.

SB32, "Indigent Defense Act Amendments," created a “statutory presumption of indigency” for all youth appearing in juvenile court, eliminating for youth and their families the burdensome process of proving that they were poor enough to receive a state-appointed public defender. This means youth are less likely to appear without legal counsel in the early stages of the delinquency process. Early automatic appointment also seems to reduce opportunities for parental/familial influence over a young person’s decision to waive their right to an attorney. SB32 also ensured that youth would be less likely to appear in review hearings, where their progress on court orders is discussed, without their attorney present. SB32 made clear that only in rare circumstances would a judge release a public defender from representing a client before conclusion of the case.

Read and/or download the full report here.

In addition to our primary findings, our report also discusses the following additional conclusions: 

  • Online hearings offer several clear advantages that should be balanced against the legal and practical benefits of traditional, in-person hearings. Improvements must be made, though, to incorporate online hearings as a future option.
    • Management of professionalism, protocol and participation seemed to be a challenge in some online courtrooms.
    • Hearings were often delayed or interrupted due to technical issues.
    • Using a single Webex link for a full day of hearings created confusion, and potentially compromised youth and family privacy in sensitive situations.
    • Online-only hearings may interfere with some judges’ ability to connect with the youth appearing before them.
  • Juvenile court judges’ expertise at interacting with young people - including building rapport, interpreting youth expression and inspiring cooperation - varies widely. Some judges’ inability to communicate effectively with young people may seriously limit their capacity to positively influence children appearing in their courtroom.
  • There appear to be persistent difficulties for youth and families who require court interpreters. These challenges likely create serious equity issues for youth appearing in juvenile delinquency court.

In response to our findings, we make several recommendations in this report for policymakers, for the juvenile courts, and also for youth and their families. Those recommendations, if fulfilled, would build upon the progress Utah is already making in the administration of justice for Utah children who become court-involved. As Utah continues to successfully reduce both the size and the negative impacts of its juvenile justice system, we are pleased to report on this additional area of progress, as well as offer constructive feedback for future improvements. 

Published in News & Blog
We are pleased to announce that the Annie E. Casey Foundation has released the 2021 Kids Count Data Book.
Access the book today at www.aecf.org/databook

Background

For 15 years it has been the priority of the Utah KIDS COUNT Project to ensure that policymakers, advocates, community service providers, the media, and concerned citizens have quality data on how children are doing in our state. These yearly publications provide county level data on a variety of child well-being indicators.Utah showed strong gains in key indicators of child well-being from 2010 to 2019, according to the 2021 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, a 50-state report on child well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzing how children are doing in four domains encompassing 16 child well-being indicators.

Summary of the 2021 Utah Kids Count Data 

This year’s Data Book shows nearly a decade of progress in all but two of the indicators.

Troublesome indicators appear in the Health domain as low birth-weight babies and child and teen death rates both saw increases over the decade. The percentage of babies born at low birth weight rose from 7.0% in 2010 to 7.4% in 2019, a 6% increase; Utah fell in the national rankings from 12th to13th in this indicator. Similarly, the child and teen death rate rose from 24 deaths per 100,000 children in 2010 to 26 in 2019, an 8% increase. Utah fell in the rankings for this indicator from 14th to 24th.

While Utah showed improvement in most areas of child well-being over the last decade, when comparing 2020 data to 2021 data our rankings from last year fell in all but one category:

- Overall ranking fell from 4th to 5th

- Economic Well-Being fell from 2nd to 5th

- Health ranking fell from 13th to 18th

- Family and Community fell from 1st to 2nd

- Education remained the same at 10th

“The bad news is Utah is not keeping pace with the states that continue to improve,” said Terry Haven, deputy director of Voices for Utah Children, Utah’s member of the KIDS COUNT network.
“The good news is it wouldn’t take much to help our rankings start trending upward again. For example, if Utah wanted to rank number one in percentage of low birth-weight babies, it would only have to reduce the number by 532 babies.”

Impact of the Pandemic on Utah Kids

Sixteen indicators measuring four domains — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community context — are used by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in each year’s Data Book to assess child well-being. The annual KIDS COUNT data and rankings represent the most recent information available but do not capture the impact of the past year:

ECONOMIC WELL-BEING: In 2019, 91,000 children lived in households with an income below the poverty line. Nationally, Utah is praised for its economic success, but Utah families continue to face rapidly increasing housing costs. Utah ranked 10th in 2018 for children living in households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing, and the state dropped to 17th in 2019. With the current housing prices in Utah, it is quite possible this trend will get worse.

EDUCATION: In 2019, Utah education ranking held steady at 10th in the nation. However, Utah’s early education numbers still lag behind much of the country with close to 60% of 3- and 4-year olds not attending school. Utah ranks in the bottom third of states for this indicator.

AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE: In 2019, 82,000 children in Utah did not have health insurance. The state made an effort to provide all children in Utah with health insurance through the passage of legislation. While the bill was enacted, not enough funding was appropriated to cover all kids. Utah continues to rank 41st in the nation for uninsured children.

FAMILY AND COMMUNITY CONTEXT: Utah has consistently ranked first in the category but fell a bit in 2019 to second. Utah did make improvements in the number of children in single-parent families. In 2018, Utah had 174,000 children in single-parent families but in 2019, the number dropped to 168,000 children.

Let's Continue to #InvestInUtahKids

Investing in children, families and communities is a priority to ensure an equitable and expansive recovery. Several of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s suggestions have already been enacted in the American Rescue Plan, and additional recommendations include:

  1. Congress should make the expansion of the child tax credit permanent. The child tax credit has long had bipartisan support, so lawmakers should find common cause and ensure the largest one-year drop ever in child poverty is not followed by a surge.
  2. State and local governments should prioritize the recovery of hard-hit communities of color.
  3. States should expand income support that helps families care for their children. Permanently extending unemployment insurance eligibility to contract, gig and other workers and expanding state tax credits would benefit parents and children.
  4. States that have not done so should expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The American Rescue Plan offers incentives to do so.
  5. States should strengthen public schools and pathways to postsecondary education and training.

Release Information

The 2021 KIDS COUNT® Data Book is available at https://www.aecf.org/resources/2021-kids-count-data-book. Journalists interested in creating maps, graphs and rankings in stories about the Data Book can use the KIDS COUNT Data Center at datacenter.kidscount.org.                                                                             

Published in News & Blog
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