Entering into adulthood, for most, is an exciting rite of passage that bears with it opportunities to try out new levels of responsibility, safely explore increased levels of independence and individuate from supportive parents. For former foster youth, the transition into adulthood, or more accurately termed emancipation from care, is generally filled with increased risks, loss of support and financial peril, with very limited prospects for pursuing post-secondary education.
In working with foster youth for nearly ten years now and with other vulnerable populations for close to fifteen years combined, I have witnessed a repeated cycle of system dependence and, at times, the pervasive hopelessness these youth can feel that they will ever get out of the poverty cycle. I have also grown in my awareness that although approximately 75% of foster youth express a desire to attend college, only 10% ever enroll and out of this 10%, only another 2-3% go on to actually earn a degree. This means that foster youth are one of the least represented populations attending higher education. Family Care Network, in partnership with the San Luis Obispo County’s Department of Social Services, has developed a unique program to help change the low rate of post-secondary education for foster youth in this County. The Transitional Age Youth Financial Assistance Program (TAY-FAP) provides support to former foster youth in identifying an educational and career path, and then provides them financial assistance combined with case management support to help them achieve their desired academic/career goals. The completion rate for those participating in the program is right around 75%, which provides some valuable insight into how evidenced-based practices actually work.
So what exactly does the TAY-FAP program do? There are a variety of supports offered, including
- Providing financial support with paying school-related fees
- Purchasing textbooks and supplies
- Helping to maintain housing
- Providing support with the cost of transportation to attend school
- Linking the student with appropriate campus and community resources to enhance their ability to achieve independence and self-sufficiency
I believe that entire family cycles can be transformed through education, moving from low socio-economic status and system dependency, to being financially independent and contributing members of society who are able to earn a living wage. Current research reflects how higher levels of education lead to other benefits as well, such as increased health, lower levels of criminal activity and reduced incidents of child abuse.
One of the most rewarding things for me, having been the TAY-FAP coordinator for the past four years, has been seeing young people learn how to turn their dreams into a reality and achieve things they hadn’t believed they could. Helping a young person identify what makes them come alive and supporting them in finding a way to use that to create an educational and career path is likely one of the most inspiring things I have known. I am honored to be able to witness the transitions these young people have made!