Foster Care Education
Who Are Students in Foster Care?
As of March 2020, there were 13,319 Arizona children and young people, ages from birth to 18, removed from their homes by the Department of Child Safety (DCS) due to the existence of neglect or abuse. The intention of foster care is to provide temporary respite and safety for struggling families, with the goal of safely reunifying (after the family has met certain conditions). If that is not possible, alternative forms of permanency are sought, including searching for an adoptive family or a placement with a permanent legal guardian.
The Importance of Education for Students in Foster Care
All children and young people should receive a quality education. For most students, their parents are their primary champions, making sure their child’s needs are met at every step along their educational journey. For students who experience foster care, successfully navigating the path to educational success becomes more challenging. Their families have been disrupted; they have been removed from their homes and the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) has assumed responsibility for their safety, health and well-being, including their education. The competing priorities of system-involvement, such as housing, medical and behavioral health services, visitations, parenting plans, long term permanency, can make it difficult for parents, caregivers and students to feel informed and empowered about their educational needs and rights.
Education is often the last thing to get addressed when a student is in foster care and their academic
progress can fall out of focus. For many students in foster care, too often the opportunity to learn has been interrupted by home and school moves. When students in foster care experience frequent school changes, they lose the critical connections and relational support needed to thrive in adolescence and adulthood. They miss out on the normalcy of experiences like playing sports and joining clubs.
Despite this, hope lives! Leaders across the country and in Arizona and young people and their adult allies, have united to develop new laws, policies, practices and investments to support the educational success of students in foster care.
Guaranteeing An Education
Under Arizona law, children and youth in foster care have the right to “go to school and receive an education that fits the child’s age and individual needs.” School can provide students with critical connections to friends, caring adult allies and a sense of normalcy in an otherwise unpredictable time. The benefits for students in foster care and their communities, when they receive a continuous, high-quality education, are limitless.
Provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
Federal educational protections under ESSA and Fostering Connections apply to students who are in “foster care.” “Foster care” means 24-hour substitute care for children placed away from their parents or guardians and for whom the child welfare agency has placement and care responsibility. This includes, but is not limited to, placements in foster family homes, foster homes of relatives, group homes, emergency shelters, residential facilities, childcare institutions, and pre-adoptive homes. An adapted summary of the key provisions of ESSA is below.
- Right to Remain in School of Origin
Under ESSA, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) must take steps to coordinate with the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) to ensure school stability for children and young people in foster care. This includes making sure that students enroll or remain in their “schools of origin” unless it is not in their best interest to do so. “School of origin” is the school in which a child is enrolled at the time of placement in foster care. If a child’s foster care placement changes, the school of origin would then be considered the school in which the child is enrolled at the time of the placement change.
- Immediate Enrollment
When it’s in the best interest of a student to change schools, ADE must ensure immediate enrollment in a new school, even if the student or caregiver cannot produce normally required enrollment documents (such as transcripts and vaccination records). Additionally, the new school must immediately contact the former school to obtain any relevant academic or educational-related documents.
- Transfer of School Records, Regular Attendance, and Participation
Additionally, when a student in foster care does transfer schools, the new school must immediately contact the former school to obtain any relevant academic or educational related documents. Schools must also ensure students are regularly attending, fully participating, and their needs are met.
- School Transportation When Necessary
Schools that receive Title I funds (most public schools, including charter schools) must collaborate with DCS to develop clear written policies and procedures governing how transportation to ensure school stability will be provided, arranged for and funded during the time the student is in foster care (in a cost effective manner and in accordance with child welfare law that permits the use of certain, federal Title IV-E funds for school stability).
Foster Care Education Point of Contact
Community Education & Outreach Director
- Right to Remain in School of Origin