“Our View: We are all negligent parents to foster kids”

Note from Advocates for Families First: This editorial  from The Arizona Republic is an excellent example of an op-ed that accurately portrays the experiences and needs of kids in care and identifies the responsibility a state entity takes on when deciding that a child must enter foster care. Addressing educational needs is also an issue that would resonate with most any reader. For advocates, the next step would be to add a “call to action.”

Editorial: Arizona’s foster kids are failing in school, and the state, funded by our tax dollars, is the bad parent.

 

Parents are supposed to get the kids to school, follow up on homework and alert the teachers to particular student needs. This is critical to success. It’s basic. Expected.

After all, what kind of parent bounces a child from school to school and does nothing when that child consistently scores far below other kids?

Look in the mirror and ask the question. That negligent parent is you.

The state of Arizona, which you bought with your tax dollars, is the parent of more than 17,000 foster children. A new report finds foster kids are struggling in school.

Arizona’s foster children scored far lower on state academic tests than other children. They have higher dropout rates and lower graduation rates.

The reasons are not surprising. These children are already dealing with problems well beyond their years. They faced the trauma of abuse. They experienced the ordeal of being taken away from everything familiar. They wait in the limbo and uncertainty of foster care.

To make matters worse, the report finds these children are more likely to attend lower performing schools. They change schools frequently and often without warning: Forty-two percent of foster care children went to two or more schools in one academic year.

As they wonder where they will celebrate their next birthday, foster children may also be unpacking their emotional, psychological and behavioral baggage in yet another new school.

The report called “Arizona’s Invisible Achievement Gap” used data on Arizona foster children in the 2012-13 school year to examine the challenges these kids face.

Commissioned by the Arizona Community Foundation and done by the nonpartisan education research group WestEd, the study looked at individual student educational data and child welfare information and got a very disturbing picture of how foster children are doing in school.

“K–12 students in foster care are unquestionably at a disadvantage in their education and typically show poor academic achievement and education outcomes,” the research found.

That held true even when compared with groups long recognized as facing particular challenges, such as minority students, children who are not proficient in English and children living in poverty.

While foster children may also fall into one of more of these other groups, just being a foster child carries its own risk.

The research found: “Arizona students in foster care have unique characteristics that justify their identification as a separate at-risk student subgroup and that this subgroup has a significant achievement gap that needs to be accounted for and addressed.”

Seeing the problem is important. But it isn’t only the achievement gap that is invisible.

Foster children themselves are largely forgotten. Too many people think the job of child welfare is done once a child is taken into state custody. It isn’t.

Arizona has taken over as parent for these children. Your state has a responsibility to perform the basic duties of a parent. That includes paying attention to how a child is doing in school.

If the state lacks the personnel or expertise for that job, lawmakers and the governor had better make changes and provide needed resources. You had better make sure they do.

Arizona enters the lives of children in the name of protecting them from abusive or neglectful parents. This is a necessary job, and one the state has historically done very poorly.

The Department of Child Safety was created in 2014 in an attempt to correct that miserable record of failure. DCS remains far short of what the people of Arizona should demand.

This report identifies another area where improvement is essential to meet the state’s responsibility to the children in its custody. It’s a basic role of parenting to make sure children have what they need to succeed in school, and Arizona stand in the role of parent for foster children.

The negligent parent in the mirror is the Grand Canyon State. That has to change.

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