Jennifer Broadbent is like most teens: She wants a cell phone, to study dance and theater, to make her own way in the world – even if she has to do it all without her parents’ help.
That got easier for Jennifer and other teens on Tuesday.
As she and three other so-called Lost Boys looked on, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed a new law that allows teens 16 or 17 to seek emancipation from their parents. With that status, the teens would be able to get housing, schooling and other services independently.
The Lost Boys, boys and girls who have fled or been kicked out of their homes in a polygamous community in southern Utah, became the poster children for what Attorney General Mark Shurtleff called a “heart-breaking problem facing all our homeless youth.”
Also likely to benefit from the law: gay teens who’ve run away from or been kicked out of their homes.
The new law allows the teens, with help of a guardian ad litem or other adult, to petition a juvenile court judge for emancipated status. The teens must show they can live independently and manage their own affairs. The process requires that parents be notified and given a chance to respond.
If granted, the teens would have limited adult status that enables them to sign leases, enroll in school, borrow money or seek medical care.
Child advocates estimate about a dozen youth a year will use the new law. It was sponsored by Rep. Roz McGee, D-Salt Lake City; Rep. Lori Fowlke, R-Orem; and Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo.
“This is not about taking children away from their parents,” said Fowlke. “This about children who do not have parents who care for them.”
Hundreds of teens are said to have left Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., the homebase of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, over the past decade. They tell similar stories of fights with parents over music, movies, clothes and boy- or girlfriends; they also report getting crosswise with FLDS church leaders and stepfathers or deciding the lifestyle is not for them.
They’ve landed in nearby communities, often clumping together in apartments and houses. Jennifer, 17, left her home in Colorado City seven months ago with the help of a cousin who’d previously moved to St. George. She is one of 16 children in a plural family that includes two mothers.
She had attended Uzona, a private FLDS high school, and earned money baby-sitting and doing odd jobs. The decision to leave came, Jennifer said, after her parents began complaining about her friends and her father “vandalized” her – taking her money and personal items.
The teen also said she realized she wanted more out of life than an early marriage and a bunch of babies. The new law, Jennifer said, “means extremely a lot to us because it means we can move forward.”