Nine high schools.
That’s how many schools Christina* moved between after entering the foster care system through no fault of her own.
At the group home where she lived, nobody took the time to inquire about her educational needs or monitor her progress. She fell further and further behind, ultimately aging out of the foster care system without a high school diploma.
And Christina’s situation is not unique.
Only 40% of children in foster care in Arizona graduate on time. And that has real world implications for these young people, their future, and our communities.
The solution? Ensure simple, administrative issues like paperwork and transportation don’t stand in the way of children in foster care getting the high-quality education they deserve.
If passed into law, Arizona Senate Bill 1205 would require caregivers, caseworkers and educators to collaboratively assess and determine the best school for the child right after they enter the foster care system. This promotes high-quality, stable education, and it avoids unnecessary disruption and the near constant uprooting of children.
Further, the bill encourages a more seamless school transition by requiring immediate enrollment and timely record transfers. Too often school transitions get bogged down in bureaucratic processes or held up due to outstanding fees owed by the student’s family of origin.
Crucially, it places explicit responsibility on the state to ensure children in foster care have access to school transportation, which could involve financially supporting a caregiver, sharing district bus routes or developing innovative transportation solutions. A child should never be forced to attend a school that cannot meet their needs simply because transportation is held up by an administrative process. These much-needed, common sense reforms will guarantee administrative hiccups never disrupt a child’s education.
Arizona’s vulnerable children in foster care experience complex, compounding traumas of abuse and neglect, family separation, turmoil of foster care, and disproportionate physical and emotional struggles. These experiences harm their development and create barriers to their education.
During the most tumultuous time of their young lives, consistent school attendance is essential. This is best accomplished by quickly assessing the best education needs of each child entering the foster system and securing their placement in the appropriate school to meet their needs.
Yet students in care are four times more likely to change school districts midyear—sometimes multiple times a year. This causes them to lose or never receive educational services and resources they so desperately need.
The major problem? A lack of strong state laws requiring an immediate determination of the child’s best educational interests and a transportation plan to the school that best addresses their needs.
With only 40% of children in foster care graduating on time, Arizona cannot afford to let simple, fixable issues like paperwork and transportation hold children in foster care back and derail their future. Now is the time for Arizona policymakers to protect the education rights of children in foster care by supporting Senate Bill 1205.
*Name and details changed to protect the child’s privacy.
Jessica Barnett is a policy analyst for the Center for the Rights of Abused Children. Learn more by visiting www.thecenterforchildren.org.