Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #8: College Support Programs for Foster Youth

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C. Today we highlight the recommendation of Alexandria Ware, a graduate student at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa.

The Proposal

Alexandria Ware, a graduate student at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa

Ware makes three recommendations centered on the premise that the federal government should ensure a base level of support for foster youth on college campuses. She would have Congress do the following:

Offer funding for foster youth mentoring programs on college campuses.

Require that any college that received federal financial aid has to establish a single point of contact (SPOC) model for students who were previously in foster care.

Require that, for any child who acknowledged being in foster care on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the university contact the student to ask if they would like to be identified for additional supports.

The Argument

As has been pointed out by other FYI participants, the college progression for foster youth is a national scourge. Eighty percent want to go, less than 10 percent do, and about 3 percent get a degree.

Ware argues that “one strategy to increase the college retention and graduation rates among foster care alumni is to connect them with mentors … to help compensate for their lack of social and emotional support.”

In Her Own Words

“During sophomore year, I lost three biological relatives. I did not know who to talk to, and the trauma worsened my depression. … It was actually a mentor I met during a first-generation college adjustment program who took me to lunch to talk about my health. Because of her support, I know firsthand how impactful a mentor can be.”

The Chronicle‘s Take

Ware’s concept is completely on point. The federal government is a somewhat significant funder for colleges, and it is a major funder of foster care, a system that should feel compelled to prepare youth for higher learning or a vocational path. So it is completely appropriate that the federal government take an interest in ensuring some minimum levels of assistance.

Further, the abysmal rate at which foster youth obtain college diplomas is a national embarrassment that should cause federal officials to acknowledge there’s a lot wrong here. And much of the problem is likely shortcomings in the foster care system that make getting to college campus difficult.

But when foster youth do get there, it should be an obsession of both the child welfare and education systems that they stay. There should be an urgency to help and to stay connected to those youth, and this is the vision Ware lays out.

Our impression is that it would be difficult to tie this all to the college’s reception of federal student aid, because the way that works is pretty indirect. The federal government doesn’t directly accredit schools for federal aid; they recognize private accreditors to do it. And those accreditors use their own formula for determining whether the institution is of high enough quality to receive federal aid.

But there are all kinds of discretionary grants for which colleges are eligible; click here for a link to pages and pages of them on the Department of Education website. Perhaps one, or more, could be tied to a basic commitment to help foster youth on campus.

Click here to read the full report, including all of the FYI proposals.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1135 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.