Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff Press Release

The Lost Boys have finally found a law to protect them. Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. highlighted the Emancipation of a Minor Act today when he ceremonially signed House Bill 30, which allows youth who are at least 16 years old to gain legal standing to get housing, education and other services. The new law is aimed specifically for homeless youth, including the "Lost Boys," a group of teenage boys and girls who have been forced or encouraged to leave some polygamous communities.

"The plight of the Lost Boys has prompted all of us to reconsider the heartbreaking problems facing all homeless teens," says Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who worked with legislators to help pass the bill. "The Emancipation law gives these kids a much needed break."

The new law allows minors to ask a juvenile court judge on their own behalf to be emancipated. The judge will consider the child's circumstances and determine whether he or she can live independently. Among other things, the emancipated minor will be able to enter into contracts, buy and sell property, obtain health care and borrow money for an education. They will not be allowed to vote, use alcohol, tobacco or firearms or skirt other health and safety regulations relevant to age.

House Bill 30 finally passed because of the dogged determination of Representatives Roz McGee and Lori Fowlke and Senator Curtis Bramble. Rep. McGee has been a children's advocate for years and had seen the need to set guidelines and criteria for youth to be emancipated. "The youth who have been abandoned by their parents will finally get the services and community support they deserve."

Here are some of the teens who are hoping to be helped by the new law:
  • Joe is 15 and decided to run away after he found out he was going to be asked to leave Hildale/Colorado City. He attends high school and works in construction. Joe hopes to be emancipated so he can get a driver's license and prepare for college.

  • Jennifer is 17 and seeking emancipation because she would like the opportunity to be self-sufficient. She is working to get her GED and is hoping to take theater and dance classes at a performance university. Jennifer isn't bitter about living in a polygamous community but she wanted more control over her own life and a chance to have a career.

  • Bruce is 15 and works as a framer. He left the FLDS community one month ago because he wanted more opportunities. However, he continues to talk to his parents and siblings who still live in the community. Bruce plans to get his GED or finish high school. He would like to be emancipated so he can open a bank account and start building credit.

  • Jeremy is 16, loves sports and hopes to play basketball or football in college. He was asked to leave Hildale/Colorado City 6 months ago. Jeremy has the money to buy a vehicle but cannot sign for one.
"In a perfect world, such legislation would never be needed," says Dr. Dan Fischer, founder of the Lost Boys Diversity Foundation, a non-profit group that helps teens from polygamous communities get jobs, housing and an education. "Ideally over time, more parents will to step up to the line in open-minded, caring ways to adequately exercise their parental responsibilities."

The Lost Boys may have been a catalyst for House Bill 30, but it was also driven by some concerns raised by the Utah Homeless Youth Questionnaire. The recent survey found some disturbing statistics about Utah's homeless teens:
  • 37% have been sexually assaulted

  • 65% have been sexually abused

  • 85% have been physically abused

  • 96% have been emotionally abused
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says it is time for the state to do more to protect these vulnerable teens. "We wish parents were involved and making sure their children are fed, have a place to stay and the ability to get an education. The emancipation law will only be needed when that doesn't happen."

Originally published May 2, 2006