Clarity on college supports for foster youth
The Imprint is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program, a group of seven former foster youth who have completed congressional internships.
The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that raises awareness about the needs of children without families. Each of the participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C.
Today we highlight the recommendation from Nijeria Peterson, 23, a graduate of Western Michigan University.
Peterson proposes that Congress take several steps toward improving access to, and knowledge of, benefits for transition-age foster youth. Peterson calls for amending the eligibility rules for the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood (Chafee) and Education and Training Voucher (ETV) programs — the two federal funding streams focused on supporting transition-age youth who have experienced foster care — to enable youth to apply for up to one year after aging out of foster care. This, she argues, will help avoid missed opportunities brought on by paperwork delays.
Among her other proposals:
-Encourage states to spend down their Chafee funds each year, planning for any unspent funds in partnership with current and former youth.
-A Government Accountability Office study to assess ways to streamline the process for connecting foster youth to student loans, tuition grants and other supports.
-Require states to prepare a “comprehensive list of eligible resources for transition-aged youth in foster care.”
Some states fail to spend down their entire Chafee and ETV allocation each year while thousands of foster youth are not being connected to the support they need to succeed in college or in the employment sector. Peterson cites recent research finding that of the foster youth receiving transitional services while aging out, only 23% report getting support for education or vocational training.
In Their Own Words
“For some of my peers, they tried accessing benefits but aged out of the system before ever receiving them. Even for programs for which I was eligible, there were always unexpected delays. As a foster youth trying to be successful in school, having to wait months to access important, time-sensitive benefits created huge instability in my life, and it discouraged me from continuing to try to access such support from child welfare agencies.”
The Imprint’s Take
Peterson zeroes in on a serious challenge in that too few youth are even aware of the Chafee funds they could access, or that it’s too late once they do realize what is available. The Imprint’s colleagues at Fostering Families Today recently put together a list of college-related supports in each state; Congress is welcome to borrow that work to get started on Peterson’s call for updated state-by-state resource guides.
You could really piece together a cool concept for state “Chafee committees” out of her proposal and that of her co-intern, Christina Parker. Both of them suggest involving current and former foster youth in planning Chafee funds, either how they are originally allocated or how unspent funds should be used each year instead of passing on them.