The Perfect College Support System for Foster Youth

Last week, The Imprint summarized a report on improving the post-secondary education outcomes of students who are foster youth or aged out of foster care.

Interestingly, the report led with a list of promising local programs from around the country, followed by sections identifying challenges for such youth and policy recommendations to help address those challenges.

The Imprint combined those programs to depict what it might look like for one foster youth – we will call her Rita – if one county incorporated all of the programs on that list.

Rita is a young teenager with a love of learning and foster parents supportive of her dreams to graduate from college. Her foster parents have used the Fostering Success website developed by the state to help Rita identify potential scholarships, and find local opportunities for work, youth development and education assistance.

One of those local programs is the county’s Supplemental Education Transition Planning, which offers a one-on-one education assistance program that focuses on pre-college preparation for high school foster youth.

Another program Rita connected with was the state-run website Great Expectations. While the Supplemental program helped her with academics, this program helped prepare Rita for what it will mean to be in college instead of high school, and on her own instead of in foster care.

The program boasts coaches and mentors at more than a dozen community colleges in the state.

Rita was accepted to a state university, and now she and her foster parents were focused on how she could pay for it. Fortunately, the state had just started a tuition waiver program pilot program for foster youths. Because Rita was between 16 and 21, she was eligible for coverage of her entire tuition as long as she demonstrated continuous progress and volunteered for 30 hours of community service per year.

The waiver program pieced together her tuition from three sources:

  • Rita’s Chafee Educational Training Voucher (ETV), a $5,000 annual award funded by the Department of Health and Human Services
  • State scholarship funding
  • University financial aid

Rita and her foster parents had discussed the proposition of adoption, and decided against it. Had they decided to go forward, the state’s Reach program has full scholarships available for up to four years of undergraduate study for youths who were adopted after age 12 and who have not reached age 26.

But the state’s Reach program did have other things to offer Rita. She was set up with a foster care liaison once she arrived on campus. The program also hosts state-wide conferences for those liaisons, and other child welfare and education professionals, to network and share experiences.

Those programs, put together, establish a strong foundation for helping older teenagers prepare for college, stay there through graduation, and pay for it.

In a system truly calibrated to connect foster youths to college, there would also need to be connective elements on both sides of the equation. Reaching foster teens with college aspirations is valuable; it would be valuable to more teens if there were educational assistance programs for foster youths starting at younger ages, beginning with early childhood programs and moving towards college campus visits.

On the other side of college is of course employment, another arena in which specialized programs could strengthen the college experience of foster youths. Many will have entered college without opportunities in the workplace, and desire a connection to careers.

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Imprint.

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New York wants to use a fund for #FamilyFirst Act prep to prevent youth from aging out of #fostercare, but some counties say the money is already spent or earmarked #childwelfare

OPINION: "The last five months have been difficult for all of us, but they have been especially harrowing for young adults from #fostercare."