Tuition scholarships offer former foster youth a path to continuing education with less financial burden
Bri Jardine was adopted at age six and entered foster care at 14. Along the way, she never felt that anyone expected her to be successful, quite the opposite. “I didn’t even think I’d graduate from high school,” he says. “My grades were horrible because I had no motivation. I was just focused on distracting myself from my situation and being home as little as possible. ”Post-secondary education, he says, was the furthest thing from his mind.
With the odds stacked against him, Jardine, now 22, walked an unlikely path. She graduated from high school, moved to Halifax from Bridgewater, NS, and completed an aesthetics program. She began working doing nails, facials, and other treatments at a spa in Mahone Bay. But soon after, he began to feel unhappy with the job and began to think about trying something different. The only problem was the financial burden.
“I was proud that I had no debt up to that point and felt that I couldn’t justify going back to school,” she says. “I kept thinking, is it really worth borrowing $ 20,000? But I was so fed up with my aesthetic work that I decided to do it anyway. ” He borrowed money and enrolled in a gas technician program at Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC).
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And then, half a year after Jardine’s schooling, NSCC instituted a tuition scholarship program for former youth in care, one of at least 20 schools in the country to do so. The application required you to describe your academic and career aspirations, and to show that you had spent time in foster care. Jardine covered the second half of his license plate, which he says took a huge weight off his shoulders. “I would have followed the trades much earlier if tuition hadn’t been a barrier,” she says. “I basically felt lonely in a foster home, and thinking about going to school when you’re already broke and it just seems impossible.”
Postsecondary education is one of the best predictors of better life outcomes for former youth in care, who are at significant risk of unemployment, homelessness, early parenthood, poor physical and mental health, and involvement in the criminal justice system.
It is also a milestone that they are overwhelmingly less likely to reach, compared to people who have not had contact with the foster care system. 56% of Ontario’s districts drop out before completing grade 12, compared to 19% of the general population. A study from British Columbia showed that children in care are 20 times less likely to enroll in postsecondary education, a pattern that is roughly true for a series of similar studies in Canada and the US likely to complete their studies. And in Canada, black, indigenous and newcomer youth are overrepresented in the system. Across the country, 52.2% of young people under 14 years of age in care are indigenous, despite the fact that they represent only 7.7% of the population; in Toronto, 41 percent of the children and youth in care are black, while they comprise only 8.2 percent of the general population.
But recently there has been a wave of tuition scholarship programs for former youth in care, thanks in large part to the promotion of the Child Welfare PAC. This non-profit organization is led by Jane Kovarikova, who has first-hand experience within the system: she was sent between six foster homes from the ages of six to 16. “I grew up believing that I was stupid because they are not doing well in high school,” she says. “At 14, I had adoptive parents who promised me that I would fail. At 16, after successfully lobbying to leave the system, he was living like an adult. “
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Unfortunately, says Kovarikova, “there is virtually no meaningful follow-up of youth outcomes after care. Not knowing what happens to our young people in adult life means that we can never be sure which ‘early years’ policies and programs have been successful. It also means that it is difficult to know how many former youth in care have benefited from these free opportunities. “
Kovarikova also says that tuition scholarship programs are only part of the puzzle. “There are financial barriers for ex-youth in care, but there are also psychological barriers,” she says. Many schools offer support services beyond finances, such as peer coaching and mentoring, with tuition waivers.
“We know that the scholarship is not everything or the end of everything. We also need to offer other types of support to students who receive [tuition waivers]”Says Jill Provoe, NSCC executive director for human rights, equity and inclusion. This year, NSCC will adopt a training program from Georgian College of Ontario, which introduced a tuition waiver for former youth in care in March, that pairs students with staff volunteers who offer academic and personal support with informal records.
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At the University of Vancouver Island, full-time advisors and student peer support navigators host social events, conduct workshops on topics such as time management, and help tuition scholarship recipients stay in the loop. of opportunities on campus.
Kovarikova says Canada’s foster care system faces other fundamental problems. Through her role as chair of the board of Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions, Kovarikova learned that her childhood file was never closed, which means that it remains accessible indefinitely to thousands of child welfare workers. In 2019, the Child Welfare PAC introduced landmark legislation that seeks to protect the privacy rights of former youth in care by prohibiting agencies from releasing personal information after a person turns 21. The bill recently passed its second reading.
As for Jardine, she is grateful to have had a satisfying professional career, despite everything she has faced. “I feel like I’m on the right track,” he says. “I love working with my hands and doing something new every day. And right now I am an apprentice in a small company with family ties. That makes me feel good “.