In California, A Push to Help More Foster Youth Get Financial Aid

San Francisco-based John Burton Advocates for Youth is launching an initiative across California to help link more foster youth with financial aid resources in college.

The goal of the year-long “California Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge” that begins in January is to make sure that foster youth in high schools across the state fill out financial aid forms for higher education, including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

John Burton Advocates for Youth is rolling out the statewide campaign along with the California Department of Education, the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and County Offices of Education, which run Foster Youth Services Coordinating Programs in counties across the state.

The deadline for participating counties to register through the Foster Youth Services Coordinating Program is by December 31st. The counties led by other local support who has the most senior foster kids to finish the FAFSA or CADAA application will receive an award by June 2018.   

The goal of the challenge is to have at least 61 percent of foster youth complete a FAFSA or the state financial aid application (California Dream Act Application) by the end of the 2017-2018 school year.

Debbie Raucher, project director for John Burton Advocates for Youth, said that billions of dollars in federal financial aid go unused each year, which could be otherwise used to help support foster youth in college.

“Many students in foster care simply don’t realize that these funds are there to help them or don’t know to whom they can turn for help applying,” Raucher said.

There are nearly 64,000 children and youth in California’s foster care system, according to John Burton Advocates for Youth. Of these, more than 16,000 are youth from 16 to 21 years old.

A survey conducted by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that 85 percent of California’s foster youth aspire to complete college. However, by age 26, just 8 percent of foster youth have obtained an associate or bachelor’s degree, as compared with 46 percent of the non-foster youth population.

“Research has shown that only half of foster youth enrolling in community colleges received a Pell Grant, though nearly all of them would have qualified,” Raucher said.

As part of the challenge, John Burton Advocates for Youth created a financial aid guide for foster youth and several other resources that they hope will help increase the number of financial aid applications made by foster youth.

County Foster Youth Services Coordinating Programs will work with school districts, child welfare agencies, local community organizations, independent living programs and local colleges serving foster youth.

John Burton Advocates for Youth will also provide technical assistance, promotional materials, student incentives, support for tracking FAFSA completion, and other resources to participating Foster Youth Services Coordinating Program to help support them in the effort.

John Burton Advocate for Youth is also offering 30 $500 scholarships through a drawing to seniors who complete FAFSA or Dream Act applications in participating counties.  Counties with the highest rates of foster youth completing financial aid applications will also be entered in a drawing for a $1,000 grant.

To sign up for the FASFA initiative, click here.


Sunshine Decosta is a graduate of California State University, Northridge, and an intern with The Chronicle of Social Change.

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