To help college-bound youth who have lived in foster care Cabrini University, Community College of Philadelphia, Temple University and West Chester University have partnered with the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research at the University of Pennsylvania to launch the initial phases of “Foster Care to College” programs across the region.
The pilot programs stem from a multi-year collaboration among more than 30 child-welfare agencies, independent-living and school-readiness programs, financial-aid agencies and governmental and non-profit organizations across Pennsylvania to develop best practices for recruiting, retaining and support for students transitioning to college from foster care.
“The Field Center convened traditional and non-traditional stakeholders with a shared goal of increasing access to and success in higher education for youth who had experienced foster care,” Debra Schilling Wolfe, the executive director of the Field Center, said. “One aspect was to create the first campus-based support programs in Pennsylvania geared to the unique needs of foster youth to offer those who want to pursue higher education the best chance for success.”
Cabrini University offers access to year-round campus housing and a food pantry, along with other support through its “Building Lives of Purpose” program. Soon, former foster youth will be given priority for appointments with Cabrini’s Counseling & Psychological Services and special consideration for on-campus jobs.
“As a University anchored by our commitment to social justice, it is our mission to ensure motivated students have the opportunity, resources and community support to thrive and succeed,” Donald B. Taylor, Cabrini president, said. “We are proud to join our fellow institutions involved in this effort and hope to provide a framework that better supports the population of former foster and unaccompanied youth who aim to achieve a college degree.”
At Community College of Philadelphia, its single point-of-contact service helps students with resources, emergency support and navigating common obstacles, such as issues with financial aid. Its plan is to strengthen its campus network with representatives from financial aid, advising, counseling, administrators and others.
“We know that the need is great and we are looking to equip campus support offices with the tools, training and resources to successfully connect former foster youth within our own on- and off-campus networks in a way that is coordinated and where there is follow-up taking place,” David E. Thomas, associate vice president for Strategic Initiatives and dean of the Division of Access and Community Engagement at Community College of Philadelphia, said.
At Temple University, confronting housing challenges from the start is one of its priorities. Through its “Foster Care to College,” initiative, students who have experienced foster care or are at-risk of homelessness are able to reside in consistent, uninterrupted housing during the academic year. It is planning further outreach, such as producing peer networking venues and linking students with its many resources, including the Dean of Students Office.
“Since its founding, Temple University has remained committed to broadening access to a high-quality education,” Stephanie Ives, the associate vice president and dean of students, said. “We seek to further enhance that mission through more intentional outreach to help attract, enroll, retain and graduate former foster youth, supporting them along the way however we can.”
West Chester University offers a single point-of-contact for referrals, school supplies, access to housing during breaks, priority placement for work-study jobs, a Student Emergency Fund, meal-plan partnerships with local businesses, along with workshops on financial literacy and resume building. In addition, it established the WCU Resource Pantry, to provide food, interview attire and toiletries.
“WCU takes pride in assisting former foster youth by providing an environment that nurtures their academic and personal development,” said West Chester President Christopher Fiorentino. “Through these initiatives, we are fulfilling our mission to provide access to higher education. At the same time, we are equally thankful for our partnership with the Field Center, which provides additional resources to support this critical and ongoing work.”
Within the next year, the Field Center plans to introduce a second cohort of colleges and universities to broaden the educational opportunities for former foster youth.
The Field Center connects experts from Penn’s schools of Social Policy & Practice, Law, Medicine and Nursing, along with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, to bring critical change to the child-welfare system by shaping policy through research and legislative reform.