For the past few years, I’ve been working on something a bit removed from traditional child welfare. I took what I thought would be a temporary (18 month) position at a college. This break from child welfare was not entirely planned, but turned out to be a great learning experience.
Among other things, I have learned firsthand how former foster youth fare in college settings. It has been a bit of disappointment for many reasons.
From my first contacts with former foster youth, I could see how ill-prepared they were for college and for adult life. I’m not talking about the obvious like managing a budget. I’m talking about EVERYTHING. The idea that financial aid requires multiple steps is often totally foreign to the former foster youth I have met. In fact, the whole notion of regular attendance in classes, following through with assignments, and generally taking responsibility seems like an impossible expectation.
Furthermore, the former foster youth I have met find adult life in general a challenge. Even when it comes to accessing needed assistance available through the foster care system, these young people have been unaware and seemingly unmotivated to seek our resources.
Couch-surfing is the most common living arrangement I have seen. Often this has put young people in dangerous situations, as their choices are poor. Although they often have high aspirations, they are unable to take the steps necessary to achieve their goals.
The other alarming thing I have seen is the lack of interest from higher ed professionals in providing support to this vulnerable population. This is perhaps most alarming. I foolishly thought there would be great interest in this. Instead I have found indifference at best.
We have to do better…..all of us. We need to better prepare young people for adulthood and for career exploration. We need to teach them to be their own best advocate. And persons in education need to understand the challenges faced by former foster youth and work harder to support them.