Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #11: Tracking the Postsecondary Achievement of Foster Youth

Aleks Talsky, 22, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Photo by Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

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 Aleks Talsky, 22, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The Proposal

Talsky asks for three actions aimed at heightening the level of attention paid at the federal level to postsecondary achievement by foster youths. She’d begin with a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on “outcomes for former foster youth in higher education,” and then move toward creation of a national database on academic outcomes for foster youth. This would be set up by requiring “all federal programs assisting former foster youth in institutions of higher education to submit relevant data.”

Talsky would also set up a competitive grant program that universities could use to build or expand support programs on campus for current and former foster youths.

The Argument

Talsky cites one of the grimmest of foster care statistics, from the 2011 Midwest Study: only 3 percent of the youth who enrolled in four-year-colleges earn a degree. She also notes that while programs exist with evidence of helping foster youth excel in academia, “these programs are not being elevated and supported as best practices at the national level.”

In Their Own Words

“The barriers I faced while obtaining my undergraduate degree threatened my successful

Boundless Futures, the most recent set of policy proposals from the Foster Youth Internship Program

completion of college. I was fortunate enough to overcome these difficulties and achieve my dream of becoming a college graduate, but for many others in my situation, one or more of these obstacles would be enough to disrupt their college education and prevent them from graduating.”

The Chronicle’s Take

There are enough examples now of supportive groups on college campuses, such as the Guardian Scholars model, that the feds could use a grant program to help proliferate them. We aren’t sure that the battle over quality data collection on academics is best fought on the federal level, though. Many of the federal programs involved in a foster youth’s life are indirect players, or are programs that do not only, or even mostly, focus on this group.

A GAO report could help make the case for this, if it focused on state’s ability to track the academic outcomes of foster youths.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at