With less than three percent of foster youth graduating college nationally each year, many youth who are, or were, in foster care find themselves dangerously disadvantaged educationally.
The numbers are stark. According to Casey Family Programs, the nation’s largest operating foundation on foster care issues, it is estimated that 30-50 percent of youth exit the foster care system without a high school diploma or high school equivalent. Meanwhile, only 30.7 percent of children who grow up in foster care graduate from high school.
The numbers are even worse at the college level.
Only 2.5 percent of children who grow up in foster care graduate from a four-year college while fewer than 2 percent of youth formerly in foster care complete a bachelor’s degree before the age of 25, compared with 24 percent of the general population.
Overall, these adolescents are more likely to perform below grade level, to score lower on statewide achievement tests, to repeat grades, to have high rates of absenteeism and tardiness and to drop out of school.
Organizations across the country are stepping up with solutions to reverse this alarming trend. Treehouse, a Washington based nonprofit, has made it their goal for all Washington foster care youth to graduate at the same rate as their peers.
“Five years ago, Treehouse, then a small nonprofit in Seattle, saw youth in foster care graduating at less than half the rate of other students and decided to claim responsibility and do something about it,” Treehouse CEO Janis Avery wrote. “Today, the extended graduation rate for youth in our program, Graduation Success, is 89 percent — about 7 percent higher than the general population.”
Graduation Success is Treehouse’s youth-centric academic program that works one-on-one with students to create an individualized high school graduation plan as well as build problem-solving and self-advocacy skills.
The program, which serves middle and high school students in foster care in select counties, connects kids with resources like tutoring, credit retrieval and college and career prep.
Even with the Graduation Success program, Washington’s overall fifth-year graduation rate for youth in foster care was 49 percent. According to Avery, this is due to a myriad of complicating issues.
“Collectively we share the responsibility of making sure youth in foster care have the support they need to launch successfully into adulthood,” Avery wrote. “Foster youth by circumstance have not had adequate parenting, and that continues for many through their time in care. Few caregivers make a long-term commitment to their teenage youth. Even if they do, it’s unlikely they have the funds needed to solve their problems.”
In New Jersey, the state and nonprofit organizations alike realized it was their responsibility to help transition these youth into adulthood. This is one of the reasons New Jersey’s Office of Adolescent Services (OAS), in conjunction with Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) and several other organizations, launched the Academic & Career Exploration to Success (ACES) Program late last year. The statewide ACES Program will help adolescents (16-21) navigate their education and employment options after high school.
“Through our work with the NJFC Scholars Program, and working with these amazing adolescents, we have been able to see first-hand some of the additional information or areas of support that are needed for this population- support that ACES now provides,” FAFS Director of Scholarship Marjorie Blicharz said. “Specifically, when these adolescents are transitioning out of high school, whether into postsecondary education or employment, they do not have the same access to information as their peers. Writing a cover letter, submitting the FAFSA as an independent student, having a concrete support to check-in with – these are just some of the examples of what ACES provides. It is information that at some point, we all had to learn, whether from family or friends, and now ACES is filling in some of the gaps.”
The ACES Program covers all of New Jersey and FAFS serves six of New Jersey’s 21 counties. Referrals for the program are based on where the adolescent lives.
Potential students should speak with their caseworker, as referrals must come from the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (CP&P) or the caseworker directly.
“To be able to provide that direct support, whether in completing college or job applications, or just being someone for them to go to while they write the next chapter of their story, is going to provide so many meaningful moments and connections for these students and for our staff,” Blicharz said.
To learn more about Graduation Success, click here.
To learn more about the ACES program, click here.