VANCOUVER, Wash. – Youth in the foster care system receive little support once they turn 18, especially when it comes to pursuing postsecondary education.
Research about this shortcoming will be presented by Amy Salazar, Washington State University Vancouver assistant professor in the Department of Human Development, at discussions hosted by the Congressional and Senate Caucuses on Foster Youth on Dec. 7 in Washington D.C.
Her research is focused on youth and young adults who have spent time in foster care.
“Youth who age out of foster care often have a very hard time transitioning to adulthood, as they lack many of the resources and supports that their non-foster youth peers often have,” she said. “Accessing higher education is especially challenging for them, and they tend to be far behind their non-foster care peers.”
Money, support for higher education
Salazar’s testimony will support legislative efforts aimed at improving federally supported postsecondary programs for youth who have been in foster care. Also speaking will be two foster care professionals and three college students who aged out of the foster care system. Student David Inglish, a child of foster care and recent college graduate, participated in Salazar’s recent research project, “Fostering Higher Education” (http://cahnrs.wsu.edu/hd/2016/08/foster-care-research-lab/).
“We want to provide more substantial and consistent support for youth in foster care who want to pursue postsecondary education,” said Salazar, a former social worker. “We want to strengthen financial aid and student support services so these young people can have the resources they need to be successful.”
Connecting with ‘campus champions’
As an example, she said higher education institutions can designate “campus champions” who are experts in how to access various forms of support for youth who have been in foster care.
“They need caring, knowledgeable adults to connect with and provide guidance,” said Salazar, who is also on the faculty of the WSU prevention science program. “They may not have a place to live or go back to during breaks in school. They often don’t have sources of monetary support in case financial aid doesn’t cover all their expenses.
“It’s really difficult for these students, and we want to do everything we can to level the playing field for them so they can be successful,” she said.
Washington program could be model for nation
Based on available studies of youth formerly in foster care, it’s estimated that between 2 and 9 percent eventually earn a bachelor’s degree, compared to approximately 29 percent of the general population, Salazar said.
The state of Washington has the Passport to College Promise Scholarship program, which provides financial assistance and campus-based support services for youth who age out of foster care. That program could provide a useful template for a national program, she said.
In addition to participating in panel and roundtable discussions, Salazar plans to meet with professional staff from four congressional committees during her day on Capitol Hill.