Last week, Arizona provided a directive to foster parents and relative caregivers that when schools reopen, children in foster care should be attending school. The Department has said they will consider some exceptions. The Arizona Department of Child Safety Director Mike Faust said in a public statement that he reached the decision based on consultation with health experts, and he was heeding advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The state will start virtual learning early in August, and is expected to issue guidance by August 7, on how to reopen physically. Reactions are mixed. The goal is to promote better learning, social, and mental health for children in foster care, but there are challenges. Some foster parents have expressed concerns. There are challenges that could include exposure to the caretaker who may be older in many instances and, therefore, more vulnerable to exposure. There can also be disagreements between the foster parent and the parent who may have different views regarding whether or not actual school attendance is in the child’s best interests. At the same time, virtual learning may have its own challenges, especially if the foster parent lacks the resources necessary for virtual learning, including hardware and access to the internet. Many of these families have lower incomes or may have lost income due to the pandemic.

Further instruction is due out by August 7. While many states have provided overall guidance on reopening with broad guidance on select populations, Arizona may be the first state to specify a return to in-classroom requirements for children in care.

CWLA supports an increase in Child Welfare Services, Title IV-B part 1, funding, and an increase in the state matching rate for Title IV-E funding. Both could help address some of the additional needs to access virtual learning, personal protective equipment, and other resources for families and children.