by Bonita Tindle
In California, the Chafee grant is a $5,000 yearly grant for foster youth in secondary education. The grant allows foster youth to buy books, supplies and cover tuition. The Chafee grant is the only grant available to foster youth in California. Many foster youth will not receive that quantity of money from anywhere else because they don’t have the resources that students with family support do.
The qualifications of the Chafee grant here are as follows: Anyone under 22 who was a dependent or ward of the court, and in foster care for one day or more between the ages of 16 and 18, can apply. In other words, any 16-18 years old who has been in foster care for a total of 24 hours can qualify for the $5,000 grant.
However, youth who have been in foster care before the age of 16 will not qualify, no matter how long they’ve been in the system. I understand that the requirements are there for a reason, considering there is a limited amount of money available for foster youth. But there are a lot of foster youth who need the resources and who are unfairly disqualified from applying.
I left the system a few months before my sixteenth birthday. I entered the system at six. I was a foster child for a total of ten years. Because I was not yet 16 when I left, I don’t qualify even though I am a junior at San Francisco State University and could benefit from the chance to apply.
I left on my own, knowing that I didn’t want to live with strange families anymore. I didn’t want to explain the differences in last name to other students. I wanted to be able to go to sleepovers, have pets, and live with my siblings. I was too young to realize that dream would never happen and that leaving the system would not make my life better.
I never received notification from any social worker about the benefits of staying in the system. In fact, I hadn’t seen a social worker for about two years. Leaving the system before 16 doesn’t mean you are ready for the world.
In fact, you may leave with a couple of things you never wanted. There is a high likelihood of developing mental illness, including depression, PTSD, or anxiety. Studies have proven that these are large deterrents from successfully completing school. Foster youth are very vulnerable when they leave the system. There needs to be more resources available for all foster youth.
Mental illness occurs during development, not during the 24 hours a youth is in care. According to a report from the National Institute of Health, studies have found disproportionately high rates of developmental and mental health problems among children in foster care. These problems can have tragic and costly consequences, including frequent placement failures, academic difficulties, increased high school dropout rates, and later delinquency.
We should be making all youth in care eligible for services. Every foster child needs support going to college, not just the older. Not just 16-18 year olds.
By Bonita Tindle, a fellow of the Journalism for Social Change Program. She is in her third year at San Francisco State University.