Advocates for children want an education plan for foster children in place so that they can achieve success in school and in later life.
A pilot program in Arizona for foster children now is used in Pima County, and proponents want they Arizona Legislature to expand it to the entire state.
The statistics for success in adult life are bleak for former foster children. Studies show that they are 25 percent more likely
to experience homelessness or incarceration. 33 percent get public assistance and the unemployment rate tops 50 percent.
Former state Rep. Pete Hershberger, the director of FosterEd: Arizona told several lawmakers who attended the briefing that foster children often fall far behind their peers, drop out at higher rates and often fail to graduate from high school.
“These and the incalculable health care costs are huge burdens to the Arizona taxpayer,” Hershberger said.
The Pima County program Hershberger runs launched in January and is serving nearly 200 foster children. They are assigned an “education champion” who assesses their needs and ensures others involved in the child’s life are brought into a team so the child gets services needed to catch up and think about college.
The group wants the state Department of Child Safety to hire 19 workers to take the program statewide at a cost of about $1.5 million a year.
Finding extra money will be tough as Arizona faces a deficit next year, but not doing it is an even worse option, Hershberger said. There are an estimated 15,000 children in foster care statewide, and about 60 percent of them are school-aged, so the money isn’t enough to get every child in the program.
“We’re not going to touch every foster child, but we’re going to touch foster children, and we’re going to make a difference in their outcomes,” Hershberger said.