A handful of universities including Harvard, Yale, and the University of Chicago approached the Education Advisory Board with these three questions regarding services provided to foster youth at different colleges and universities:

  • How are key support services for foster youth structured?
  • What resources are available to help foster youth transition to life at the university (e.g., dedicated advisor, support group, etc.)
  • How do other universities assist foster youth in facing specific challenges including applying for financial aid, buying textbooks and other peripherals, and finding a place to live during semester breaks?

The clients requested data from large public universities, but the board also contacted administrators at a community college in California, given the state’s system-wide commitment to foster youth in their community colleges, and also at Seattle University, which has the most comprehensive program nationwide for its attention to foster youth.

Here are their findings:

  • To ensure student success, it is necessary to provide financial, academic, and emotional/social support.
  • A full-time designated point person is vital for the success of foster youth in the university.
  • Build an advisory committee with contacts across campus, institutionalizing the university’s commitment to foster youth.
  • The majority of foster youth support programs are housed in student affairs.
  • Solicit feedback from students to inform programming.
  • Whether or not the university is able to provide a comprehensive scholarship program for students aging out of foster care, financial advising is essential.
  • All four-year institutions offer year-round, on-campus housing for foster youth.
  • It is important to integrate foster youth into the university community and not offer too many siloed activities. (Yarrish and Beelat 4)

And they also offer the following recommendations:

  1. Appoint a post person to support and advocate for youth within the university community.
  2. Create an advisory committee by identifying contacts in key offices across campus. (Yarrish and Beelat 5)
  3. Reach out to the community to obtain buy-in and leverage pre-existing resources for foster youth.
  4. Programming should be informed by input from foster youth currently at the university.
  5. Determine whether the program will include a competitive scholarship to inform program structure. (Yarrish and Beelat 6)
  6. Identify and recruit students for the program by partnering with existing state and local organizations and public schools. (Yarrish and Beelat 7)

The takeaway is that it takes an immense amount of planning and coordination to ensure that the needs of students emerging from foster care are met once they get to college. Aside from extra financial and academic support, these students also have emotional needs stemming from their experience in the foster care system.

In the context of New York City, I think housing will be an especially tricky piece to put in place, given that none of the city’s community colleges have residence halls or offer campus housing. The sample schools in the study that could not offer campus housing to the target population each partnered with a public housing program—a state Independent Living Program (ILP) or a municipal Transitional Housing Program (THP). By comparison, New York City offers scant housing options to youth emerging from foster care, especially since ACS dismantled its Supervised Independent Living Program (SILP), to the disappointment of youth advocates and the dismay of the youth themselves. ACS attributes their decision to their belief that placement in a permanent family is the best outcome for youth in care, but it seems that their idealism ignores the reality that as foster kids enter their teens, their chances for family permanency lower drastically.


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