By Paul R. Pace, News staff
Foster youth can experience greater challenges than their non-foster youth peers as they grow into adulthood.
Besides the potential for mental stress, foster youth can face financial, transportation and housing insecurity that can impede a path to a postsecondary education.
Fortunately, there are social workers, such as Maria Garin Jones, who specialize in supporting foster youth and giving them a fair chance on the road to continuing their education.
Jones is a project manager for the Aim Higher program at Foster Care to Success, or FC2S. It is a Virginia-based nonprofit organization that provides young people with financial resources, guidance and encouragement to help them earn a degree or credential.
“For a variety of reasons, young people from foster care are often unprepared to take on the challenges and rigor of college level coursework,” Jones explained. Nationwide, less than 10 percent of foster youth graduate from college, FC2S notes.
“There is more than one pathway to success and young people need information about the array of possibilities so that they are able to make informed decisions and select the postsecondary education or training program that represents the best fit for them,” Jones said.
It’s vital that young people realize they have options, she added. For example, students from foster care may believe that they can’t go to college because of their limited financial means.
“This is a myth,” Jones said. “In fact, there are resources available – federal financial aid such as Pell Grants and Education and Training Vouchers (ETV), state tuition-waiver programs, stipends, scholarships and more to help these students pay for postsecondary education and training programs, but they must be ‘braided’ together to maximize investments.”
FC2S encourages students to remain in foster care until age 21 if possible so that they can continue to receive support, particularly with housing.
“Too many young people have no idea where their support comes from – whether it’s foster care funds or financial aid,” Jones said. “We need to help them understand the resources they have at their disposal so they can make the most of these time-limited dollars.”
One way FC2S helps foster youth is by supporting college students and graduates as Aim Higher Fellows, which starts with an intensive skill-building program in Washington, D.C. and then continues year-round by having the students educate other foster teens and caregivers about postsecondary education readiness and success.
Jones has worked with FC2S since 2009 and credits her social work education with helping her understand the complexity of people’s lives as well as the impact of poverty, injustice and disenfranchisement.
“I’m reminded of something I learned as a first-year social work student – understanding the person-in-environment perspective and the profound impact than an individual’s environment has on experiences and behavior,” Jones said.
From the February 2016 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story here.