May 27, 2014Advocates aiming to improve higher education outcomes for foster care youth in the state have launched an initiative aimed at providing better financial aid resources for students.
The Youth in Care Coalition hopes to increase accessibility for college through increased financial aid and raising awareness for struggling students coming from foster care through their Foster College Success Campaign. New York is home to 20,000 kids in foster care but less than 3 percent of them go on to college, according to the coalition.
"I understand all too greatly the challenges a young person in foster care might face while pursuing a college education. I experienced first hand just how much patience, resources, and support is necessary to obtain a college degree while aging out the foster care system," said Jessica Maxwell, the coordinator of the Youth in Care Coalition.
"I went into the system at 13 with the dreams of going to college and then law school but as my time in the foster care system went by my dreams of attending college began to dissipate. I know what it's like to struggle, juggling work and struggling to achieve good grades, all while dealing with the personal issues of being in the foster care system," Maxwell continued. "I was fortunate enough to have access to a specialized scholarship program that provided me with the financial and supportive resources I needed to be successful in college."
The Education Training Voucher, a nationwide program for foster kids, gives each student up to $5,000 per year; however advocates say the program, when combined with TAP and Pell grants, still falls short in covering basic college expenses.
The coalition wants a model based on programs in Florida and Texas, where foster students can attend public universities and community colleges for free; leaving students to spend aid on other college expenses such as books and housing.
Through the campaign, the organization hopes to better educate aspiring college students about applying to college, scholarships and other aid that is offered and supportive services available to foster youth.
Desiree Moore, who struggled to finish college due to a lack of emotional support, urged for more mentorship for foster youth insisting they lack family support.
"As a young person once in [foster] care, I truly understand the campaign and initiative that we're discussing today," Moore said. "I understand how education can be less of a priority when you are striving to meet your basic needs. Education is one of the key components a person needs leaving the system so that they never have to return to the system and get the same support. However, without the proper support that can be very difficult. I didn't have the opportunity to finish college because I didn't have the support I needed."
Moore also said foster youth need better documentation to simplify the process of applying for aid and better transitional housing for those who age out and want to live independently.
Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan, says that, as former chair of the Social Services Committee, she was exposed to the issues regarding kids in foster care, specifically the issue of aging out of the system. When foster kids become a certain age, anywhere from 18 to 21, they are "aged out" of the system and transitioned into independent living, where they face housing uncertainty and an increased risked of homelessness.
"Through no fault of their own, there is this anomaly in the TAP schedules where if you have family support you're a dependent student, and if you don't have family support, you're an independent student and you get less support," Glick said.