- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Driver’s licenses are a storied rite of passage and mark of independence for teenagers across the U.S., but it’s one that very few children in Utah foster care experience.

Of the nearly 1,000 Utah foster children old enough to drive, just 15 have licenses, state workers told Utah lawmakers.

Jennifer Larson, who works with adolescents at the Division of Child and Family Services, said driver’s license are important to teens in foster care.

“Yes, it’s a rite of passage, but it’s also a major piece of ID,” Larson said. Teenagers need identification to apply to colleges, open bank accounts or go to the doctor.

But many foster families can’t assume liability for a young driver with a learner’s permit. That’s what happened to foster teen Sam Carling when he got old enough to drive, the Desert News reported (https://bit.ly/1wwS9dN).

“Mostly, I got around paying people to drive me,” said Carling, who estimated he spent about $500 over three years for rides.

Now 19 and recently adopted, he’s preparing to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Milwaukee.

“I think it’s a good way for kids to get independent,” he said.

But lawmakers pointed out foster parents get only limited funding from the state to help with child care expenses, and car insurance for teen drivers is expensive.

“I’m trying to protect the foster parents out there. We pay them nothing, and we expect the world from them,” said Republican state Sen. Allen Christensen from North Ogden.

A Youth Council of foster teens proposed giving them a chance to earn driving privileges by regularly attending school or maintaining a 3.0 or higher grade point average, Larson said.

State workers are looking at the driving records of teens in foster care and trying to figure out how much it might cost to insure them, but Christensen said he didn’t foresee the state paying for insurance policies for 16-year-olds in foster care.

Johnny Anderson, a Republican representative from Taylorsville, said teenagers might be able to pay for their own insurance if they can get jobs.

“Maybe we can create a system where the (foster) parents can make the ultimate decision,” Anderson said.

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