When a bill unanimously passes the Arizona legislature, you know that its merit must be universally agreed upon. That’s what happened to Senate Bill 1019 in May of 2021. This piece of legislation, brought by Gen Justice, makes state photo identification cards free for all children in foster care in Arizona. Such a simple concept, but incredibly important to this most fragile population.
According to Rebecca Masterson, chief counsel of Gen Justice, nationally 20,000 foster children disappear every year, and often there are no photographs to assist law enforcement in their search to find these boys and girls. With this legislation, all Arizona group homes are required to obtain a state ID for all children in their care. If a child goes missing, the child’s photo and identifying information can be immediately uploaded to state and federal databases to assist in finding the child. This is but one example of how Gen Justice advocates for the rights of foster children, taking action both locally and nationally to change policies that impact hundreds of thousands of abandoned and abused children.
Darcy Olsen founded Gen Justice in 2017 with a mission of ending the bureaucratic failures, violence and deaths that she had seen children suffer in our nation’s broken child protection system. Teaming up with Rebecca, a highly experienced attorney, this powerhouse team has utilized their life journeys as foster parents to make systemic changes to how the foster care system operates.
Gen Justice has taken the lead in advocating for legislative changes in governmental oversight of foster care operations. Laws enacted in recent years include requiring an early and diligent search for relatives with whom a foster child could be placed. Finding a viable biological connection for displaced children can ease the trauma they have lived through on removal from the only family they have known. This is balanced with the rights of foster parents who have stepped up to provide love and safety to traumatized children. Under the legislation, a family that has fostered a child for 9 months now has the same legal rights as kin. The court can consider all options equally before making a decision that is in the best interest of the child.
An opinion piece written by Rebecca in 2020 was titled “There’s a better way to do foster care”. This seems to perfectly state the objectives of Gen Justice. Every day they fight to reduce the time kids spend in foster care, to improve safety for children in imminent danger, to improve educational opportunities for children in care and to require the state to increase transparency in providing information on child tragedies that occur while in foster care.
The battle they wage to improve the system is intensely personal for Darcy and Rebecca. Darcy has adopted her four children from foster care. Rebecca met her oldest son during a school meeting when he was sixteen, having spent most of his childhood in foster care. They have seen first-hand the problems in our foster care system and now devote their lives to making critical changes to how the process plays out and affects so many little lives.
The United States has more than 400,000 children in foster care. The Gen Justice team has made remarkable progress toward achieving their mission, but there is still much work to be done. Gen Justice is hard at work to find Rebecca’s better way to do foster care, and I for one am incredibly grateful for their never-ending efforts.
Learn more about Gen Justice and how you can support their work at www.genjustice.org. Gen Justice is a Qualifying Foster Care Organization (QFCO #10053), making donations eligible for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit against your Arizona tax liability.
Dan Shufelt, the former CEO of Arizona Helping Hands, has been involved in the charity world as an executive and grant maker for many years.
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