The Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, held the second in an on-going series of discussion on youth in foster care.  The event held on Wednesday, December 7, “A Focus on Older Youth and Young Adults in Foster Care: A Focus on Higher education Opportunities.”  The second session focused on some of the best approaches and strategies that can be used to promote college-education for young people  transitioning from foster care into college.  Opening remarks were provided by Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL) a longtime advocate on foster care issues.  Congressman Davis focused on some of the challenges young people face and the need to have involvement by young people in the solution.  Mr. Davis also reflected the retirement of Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) and his leadership on child welfare issues.  Both members serve on the House Human Resources Subcommittee.

The opening overview was provided by Amy Salazar, Washington State University. Foster Care and Higher Education: Research and Recommendations.  She discussed some of her research on what some of the biggest barriers were for young people transitioning from foster care to college life.  Much of her presentation focused on five recommendations: supportive, knowledgeable consistent, and caring adults; access to sufficient financial resources; post secondary preparedness; flexible supports to meet diverse needs; and making sure students know what they are eligible for. She then outlined some of the details of those recommendations.  These included how the greatest aid is broader than just financial and tuition support but navigating many of the various life challenges that come with true independence and college life.

As was highlighted at the forum, of those in care, only 58% graduate high school, less than 20% of those who graduate from high school attend college, and between 3% to 9% of the youth who attend college complete a post-secondary credential.  Thus, only an extremely small fraction of foster youth experience higher education success.  Further, foster care youth who successfully enroll in college are more likely to need remedial courses, which do not count toward degree requirements, limit their access to Pell grants for the duration of their degree, delay time to graduation, and increase drop-out rates.

Also, speaking on the panel, Sixto Cancel, Think Of Us, who focused on his specialty of aligning better data and information to both understand the challenges for youth in higher education as well as finding solutions. His organization is focusing, using web-based and mobile technology to engage child welfare systems across the nation with the aim of accelerating the integration of technology as part of greater system reform.

Other panelists included Lexi Gruber, who discussed her experiences in foster care in the state of Connecticut and how that state’s early initiatives in supporting foster youth in college made a difference in her success.  She said that Connecticut was the first state to expand foster care and to extend support through four years of college.

There was also a great deal of discussion regarding Michigan’s Wayne State University and TIP (transition to independence program). That state combines a number of resources to assist student.  These included using federal resources such as the John Chaffee tuition vouchers and the U.S. Department of Educations TRIO program to support not just tuitions but a range of supports. These supports include coaching that can assist young students in some of their challenges, confidence building through the development of public speaking, participation in advisory committees and advisory groups, and preparation for careers which can include work-study, internships and scholarships.