John Burton Foundation Update: Equity Funding & Financial Aid Barriers to Foster Youth

Every week, I work with my team at The John Burton Foundation to identify what we think are important developments in the field of child welfare and foster care.

This week, two that caught my eye were equity funding for foster youth in community college and financial aid barriers for kinship youth.

Equity funding for foster youth in community college was part of the 2014-2015 budget bill, signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown last month. In order to access the new funding, each community college district is required to develop a student equity plan by January 2015, designed to close achievement gaps between student groups. SB860, the budget trailer bill that details equity planning requirements, specifies foster youth as a subpopulation that must be addressed in equity plans alongside various ethnic groups, students with disabilities, veterans and low-income students.

The budget allocates $100 million for implementation of these plans across the state. In order to access funds, each district must compile research regarding outcomes for each subpopulation, including foster youth, and determine specific goals related to access to, and completion of, basic skills, career technical education, and transfer courses. The John Burton Foundation is currently working with the Community College Chancellor’s office to prepare a template and other tools that will be made available to campuses to assist them to incorporate foster-youth-specific services into equity planning.

Another important development was the release of  a report by the New York-based poverty law firm, MFY Legal Services, detailing the barriers to financial aid faced by students raised by kinship caregivers outside of the formal foster care system. Youth who were not placed pursuant to any court order (“informal” kincare arrangements) must either provide parental income information or obtain a “dependency override” by their school in order to obtain federal financial aid, a cumbersome process that varies widely from one institution to another. As parental data can be difficult, if not impossible, for many youth in kinship families to obtain, youth within these informal kincare relationships were found to face significant obstacles when attempting to apply for financial aid. The report noted that in this one respect, these youth are at a disadvantage relative to those in the formal foster care system or in guardianship, who are entitled to independent status and thus not required to provide parental information.

The report recommends that those advising kinship caregivers regarding legal options should understand the long-term educational consequences of different caregiver choices and convey this information to kinship caregivers. In addition, federal legislation, H.R. 3446, is currently pending to partially address this disparity by allowing students who do not have contact with their parents to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as “provisional independent” students pending a dependency override.  Click here to read the full report.

Amy Lemley is the policy director of The John Burton Foundation. 

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