New law guides "Lost Boys"

The Spectrum, Utah/May 4, 2006

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed House Bill 30 - the "Lost Boys" law - Tuesday that permits teenagers to seek emancipation from their parents.

Whether banished from the polygamous communities of Hildale or Colorado City, Ariz., made homeless from an abusive household or independently out on their own for other reasons, 17-year-olds will now be able to sign rental agreements, take out loans and acquire health insurance coverage freely without parental consent.

Under the new law, minors who wish to wield control over their lives will submit a petition to the juvenile court judge with proof they are capable of living independently. Parents will be notified and given a chance to respond in the emancipation process, but it has already been projected to enable about a dozen youths a year full liberation. However, with this new law comes responsibility - not only by the youth themselves, but by the state and the communities in which these youth reside if they are able to be successful, positive contributors to society. We've witnessed the sad tales of teenage boys and girls exiled out of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for a wide range of reasons, including kissing and wearing "inappropriate" apparel. But it has been more painstaking to watch these neglected youth, left to their own devices of poor decision-making skills in a much less-structured world than they once knew, commit criminal acts of drug abuse, assault, theft and other offenses.

The Hope Organization, an advocacy group for people who are leaving or have been cast out of polygamy, can celebrate the mandate that will make it easier for it to help the abandoned youth, but more must be done. Educational, occupational and emotional training with newly taught life skills must be provided with mentors and support groups to help these transitioning youth who are at extreme risk of early pregnancy, homelessness, poverty, victimization, and violent, criminal activity.

While these emancipated youth may now qualify for services, without access, it does them no good. Emancipated youth must be granted access to services any adult would readily receive. However, in giving these same privileges, the consequences for their abuse must also remain the same or jeopardize creating a subculture of people being held to substandards based on unfortunate circumstance, which is neither fair to the teens or the rest of society.

The "Lost Boys" who are getting caught up in the criminal justice system should be offered the resources necessary for rehabilitation but not as an alternative to jail or prison sentencing that would be given to other youth with differing backgrounds who are committing the same serious crimes. Incarceration and public assistance must be tempered in the name of fairness and justice, and not waived for special victims of circumstance, which is a claim anyone can make.

We applaud the governor for signing HB-30 into law. Now it's up to the youth and the rest of us to fill in the gaps.

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