Foster Youth who “age-out” of care at 18 or 19 face multiple obstacles, regardless of their intended route to adulthood. Whether they want to go to college, go to a vocational program, or work to meet their own needs, they do so with limited life skills and even more limited resources and support. They also forge their paths alone, without parental safety nets or financial assistance. Facing the reality of having to meet all of your own needs--financially and emotionally--at 18 with little opportunities for employment and affordable housing, it is no wonder that a majority of former foster youth end up homeless or worse.
San Luis Obispo County decided long ago that it would not stand by while our foster youth fell prey to grim statistics. Instead, we’ve established wonderful, working partnerships to provide foster youth with the resources, support systems and financial aid they need to make the leap from system dependence to independence. Together, Family Care Network and SLO County Department of Social Services have developed multiple programs to benefit our local youth, including ones that house them, guide them and make sure they have what the need to reach their dreams.
Below is a first-hand account of a foster youth who not only benefited from our local programs, but she is now working hard to utilize her academic success to help educate and activate others, to bring about positive change for all foster youth! Bailey, at only 21 years old, recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Sociology and a minor in Public Policy. She’s been accepted to UC Hastings Law school where she will begin this Fall. Last week, she participated in the DC foster youth congressional shadow program--using her voice to help the thousands of foster youth across the nation. With her leading the charge for change, we know that it will happen.
We hope you’ll be inspired by Bailey’s words.
“With graduation approaching in three months, I am taking some time to reflect upon everything that my educational experience has provided me. My time at UC Berkeley has been an absolute whirlwind, in both positive and negative ways. I never thought I would be accepted into a school like UC Berkeley, and I applied on a whim after being encouraged to by my community college counselor. I will forever be grateful that I did because it has been pivotal in shaping my future and me as a person. Berkeley has given me the space I needed to grow, molded my world view, and provided me with a plethora of opportunities to learn about and work on things I am passionate about. It also led me to fall in love with sociology, public policy, and experiential learning. My academics and extracurriculars for my last year of college are definitely a reflection of that.
I am happy to say that I am participating in the Public Service Internship Leadership Program through the UC Berkeley Public Service Center, where I am interning at the Richmond Rent Program. The program is an extension of the Richmond Rent Board, which is working towards serving the needs of the low-income and often marginalized Richmond community by informing tenants and landlords of their rights, enforcing just cause for eviction, and mediating landlord-tenant conflict, just to name a few. I also have been working as a volunteer research assistant at the Risk Resilience Lab on campus for the past year, which is focused on criminal justice reform, mental health and substance abuse, and exposing the implicit bias of court officials in the criminal justice system. I recently received a promotion in my research lab and will now be conducting criminal research at the District Attorney’s office in San Francisco! It’s been fascinating to learn how to conduct research and see it translate into creating viable change.
My research position has also been helpful as I embarked on the year-long Sociology Senior Thesis Program. I would have to say my thesis has been the most life-changing experience I’ve had thus far. The working title is “Examining Barriers to Postsecondary Education Attrition and Retention for Current and Former Foster Youth in California”. This ridiculously long title is kind of a metaphor for how much of my time and energy (and heart!) I have dedicated to this research project. It’s no secret that foster youth are extremely disadvantaged and face a variety of challenges both when they are in care, and as they enter adulthood. However, I did not fully realize the extent of these disadvantages until I began this project. Only 3% of foster youth graduate from a four-year university nationally. Three. Percent. With so many organizations, federal grants, scholarships, and on-campus support programs, this percentage should be WAY higher. My goal is to examine and expose the barriers that hinder the educational success of foster youth.
I have been distributing an online educational experience survey to current and former foster youth who are currently enrolled in college or have already received a bachelor’s degree. I have also begun to conduct in-depth interviews with former foster youth about their educational experience and barriers to postsecondary attrition and retention. However, the survey and interview question responses I have received thus far reveal challenges and barriers that are heartbreaking, to say the least. As I learn more about the personal and educational experiences of foster youth from all over California, I have come to realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have been in foster care in San Luis Obispo County.
The main reason SLO County is so special is because of Family Care Network and TAY-FAP [Transitional Age Youth Financial Assistance Program, operated in partnership with our local Department of Social Services]. I was previously unaware that TAYFAP is a program unique to San Luis Obispo, and was amazed to hear that more foster youth from SLO county attend college than the general population. In comparing the grim statistic of a 3% four-year college retention rate for foster youth with the high percentage of foster youth from SLO County who attend a four-year college, it is evident that Family Care Network and TAY-FAP are clearly doing something (or some things) incredibly right. For the youth who have participated in my thesis project and did not have access to TAY-FAP, their transition to and experience in a four-year university has been very difficult, stressful, and full of uncertainty. I know I would not have been able to be so actively involved on campus, or set to attend law school this Fall without the continual support of Family Care Network. I am SO grateful to be where I am, and I hope that at some point in the near future, every foster youth has the same access to support and opportunities that I have.”
To learn more about TAY-FAP or how to support our local foster youth, please visit us at FCNI.org or call (805) 781-3535