Monday, April 23, 2007

Importance of college tours for youth in foster care

Photograph of Pinkie Thomas

Although 70% of 17-year-olds in foster care express a desire to attend college
, only 54% graduate from high school and only 2 - 5% earn a college degree.

Why? According to a 2002 study, barriers to college access for youth in and from foster care included:
-Multiple school placements
-Inconsistent social support
-Low educational expectations from caregivers
-Schools placing foster youth on vocational tracks
-Poor quality of education at group home and residential on-site schools
-Lack of access to college prep resources

Factors that helped foster care alumni to enter and succeed in college included:
- Information about financial aid
- Advice about college
- Attending college prep classes in high school

In a recent forum with Ohio foster care youth, two sisters shared their experiences with two very different social workers. One sister had a social worker who was willing to take her on college tours. The other sister had requested this assistance - and her social worker had refused.

When social workers don't expect their charges to succeed in college -
When they refuse to invest in youth people with whom they are entrusted -
When they don't share information about financial aide and ETV funding -
They are investing in the failure rate of foster care alumni.
Didn't they enter into their profession in order to build up the success rate?

Among child welfare personnel, it is the staff members who are willing to invest in young people who make the difference. College tours are a wonderful way to demonstrate that higher education is accessible to people in and from foster care.

Pinkie Thomas
, director of the Ohio Family Care Association, a statewide agency supporting foster, kinship, respite and adoptive parents, wants to increase the college attendance rate of young people in and from the Ohio foster care system.

She arranged for a group of teenagers in the custody of Franklin County Children Services to travel by bus on a series of college tours, led by college students and/or admissions counselors.

Destinations included Kentucky State, Central State, University of Toledo, Bowling Green University, Hocking College, Ohio University, Mount Vernon Nazarene and Kent State University.

I applaud Pinkie Thomas for her foresight and dedication. She's right -- foster care alumni can do a lot better than 2 - 5%.

It is the people in our lives who can make a positive or negative difference. I still remember Randy Mills, the admissions counselor at the University of Kentucky, and how I came into his office as a scared 16-year-old, and left as an enrolled university student.

He saw beyond my 'troubled' background and recognized me for my grades, ACT scores, and the letters my high school teachers had written on my behalf. He didn't view me as a victim or a statistic, but as a survivor. And, I proved him right. I made it through college and graduate school.

Youth in foster care rely upon a system of caretakers for the things that a family normally provides.

The significant adults in our lives need to believe that we can succeed. They need to invest in school stability, provide us with a challenging curriculum and make sure that we have at least one adult role model who invests in our future.

Merdinger, J., Hines, A.M., Lemon, K., & Wyatt, P. (2005). Pathways to college for former foster youth: toward understanding factors that contribute to educational success. Child Welfare, 84 (6), 867-896.
Hines, A.M., Merdinger, J. & Wyatt, P. (2005). Former foster youth attending college: resilience and the transition to young adulthood. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 75 (3), 381-394.

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Well said.

As we embark on our foster care journey, I am constantly puzzled at the school situation. Our kids will go to a public school that is not good - at all. I have been in touch with the resource teacher there to see if she can help with the transition.

If we had bio kids, we would send them to Catholic school as both my husband & I are cradle Catholics. I don't know my local Catholic school's policy on foster care kids but I am going to find out!

Thanks for all you do.
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