Helping foster youth succeed in higher education was the focus of the 2013 Blueprint Conference held in Los Angeles over two days in October. The John Burton Foundation, which manages the California College Pathways Initiative, produced the sold-out event that brought professionals from 15 states to learn, share and find solutions.
In 1998, Cal State Fullerton became the first California college to provide specialized post secondary supports for students in foster care. With an infusion of resources from the Stuart and the Walter S. Johnson Foundations, alongside campus-level buy in and the support of other funders, the California College Pathways Initiative has grown to encompass 80 campuses, which now boast comprehensive support services for foster youth.
Among the attendees were funders from philanthropic organizations looking for smart ways to invest in foster youth and education. Yali Lincroft, program officer at the Walter S. Johnson Foundation said, “Programs that are partnering with institutions like schools, child welfare, community college, the court – they’re impactful because they’re making system reform with the system.”
Another part of working with the system: data. “Data collection is so key. You can tell me that you’re doing well, but show me the numbers,” Lincroft said.
Part of the larger funding strategy adopted by the initiative is ensuring that there is cross campus cohesion in how outcomes are measured, what outcomes are desired and what are the best ways to achieve them.
“What is it we’re all collectively trying to do? Do we have common language to talk about that and how do we talk about the full spectrum?” asked Teri Kook, director of child welfare and chief of programs at the Stuart Foundation, during the conference.
For Kook, it is not just about graduation, but also the skills foster scholars leave college with.
“Its not just enough just to say, ‘Great, you got your degree. Good Luck!’Its a tough world out there right now,” Kook said.
As many as fifty foster youth scholars were present at the conference allowing for input on the evolution of programs that will ultimately affect their lives.
Jaleesa Suell, an advocate with Oregon-based Foster Club, said, “I believe that if I can be that voice and have these recommendations then the program funders and the development and policy people can develop things that will ultimately better the system and foster youth can have better outcomes.”
Justin Pye is in his second year at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. He worked as a fellow with Fostering Media Connections over the summer of 2013.
Note: The Walter S. Johnson Foundation and the Stuart Foundation support the work of Fostering Media Connections.