Thursday, March 17, 2022

Community-wide partnership creates pathway to college for youth with a history of foster care

Community-wide partnership creates pathway to college for youth with a history of foster care

(Sept. 23, 2019) – Bexar County youth in foster care will soon have a new support system to put them on a path to succeed in college. Through an innovative county-wide collaboration, The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), Texas A&M University - San Antonio (Texas A&M-SA), the Alamo Colleges District (ACD), Bexar County Children’s Court and Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA) have developed a pilot program to position Texas to become a national leader in increasing the number of children in foster care who are academically and emotionally ready to succeed in college.

The Bexar County Fostering Educational Success Pilot Project will create an array of educational support resources for current and former foster care youth by enhancing existing programs and practices and developing targeted support to increase college access, enrollment, and retention and graduation rates. More than 600 foster care alumni are currently  enrolled on these campuses, and the program will serve additional youth in foster care who aspire to go to college.

According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, nearly 35,000 children are in the Texas foster care system. About 3,500, or 10%, live in Bexar County. Each year, 1,200 of youth age out of the foster care system in Texas.

As they enter adulthood, this vulnerable population often faces challenges most people would have trouble comprehending. They’re often working through unresolved trauma, instability of placement, lack educational preparation and little financial and emotional support, compared to their peers. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 5,600 or 28% of youth nationally who age out of the foster care system experience homelessness.

Many of these youth strive to go to college but they face an uphill battle. Research conducted in Texas found that 33% of foster care alumni enroll in college, but just 1.3% graduate with a bachelor’s degree by age 24.

Texas was one of the first states and currently one of 22 states that offers the State College Tuition Waiver, which exempts current and former foster youth from paying tuition and fees at state supported colleges and universities, but does not include room and board. The Bexar County Pilot Project will provide an added layer of outreach and campus-based support for students at UTSA, Texas A&M-SA and ACD campuses through a comprehensive, strength-based approach of education success by addressing:

  • supportive relationships and community connections
  • physical and mental health
  • finances
  • employment
  • housing

Research has found that students with a history of foster care in Texas who attend four-year universities with campus support programs like this are 6.8 times more likely to graduate.

The Bexar County Pilot Project is generously funded by a $3.5 million appropriation from the 2019 Texas legislature made possible through the sponsorship of State Senators Pete Flores and José Menéndez, and State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, and the support of the entire San Antonio delegation.

The program includes partnerships with Bexar County Children’s Court, CASA, the San Antonio Independent School District, Child Protective Services and the Children’s Shelter/Family Tapestry. They will work together to create a pipeline of education support for youth in foster care at the middle and early high school levels. The pipeline also will include an innovative Children’s Court College-Bound Docket, which will provide targeted mentoring, advocacy and academic support to improve college readiness for foster care youth in Bexar County.

The Alamo Colleges, UTSA and Texas A&M-SA are expanding existing pre-college program for former youth in foster care by providing students with a comprehensive, strengths-based approach to educational success by addressing supportive relationships and community connections, physical and mental health, finances and employment and housing. Additionally, UTSA and Texas A&M-SA will serve as Supervised Independent Living (SIL) programs which will provide housing, meals and support services for currently enrolled students who elect to extend foster care to age 21.

While other universities across the country offer campus support programs, the Bexar County Pilot Project is unique because of its comprehensive approach to improve outcomes for foster care alumni by targeting current college students as well as middle and high school students currently in foster care. It also will create opportunities for applied research and evaluation as it becomes a model for other postsecondary education institutions in Texas and throughout the United States.

“The program is going to help pave the way for foster youth before they are in college, while they are in college and after they've graduated,” said Krizia Franklin ’12, ’15, UTSA alumna, current UTSA graduate student and a former foster care youth. “My hope is that more universities across the state and country will look to this program and start having conversations about what they can do in their communities to help foster youth be better equipped for a successful transition out of the foster care system and beyond.”

The partnership was celebrated and officially launched during a special ceremony today at 2 p.m. at the Bexar County Commissioners Court. Founding partners including UTSA President Taylor Eighmy, Texas A&M-SA President Cynthia Teniente-Matson, Alamo Colleges District Chancellor Mike Flores, CASA President Marina Gonzales and the Hon. Peter Sakai, Judge of the 225th District Court, Children’s Court, signed a memorandum of understanding.

At the event, Flores, Menéndez, and Martinez Fischer were recognized for their efforts to secure the funding from the legislature.

Guests also heard student testimonials and learned more about the purpose, objective and vision of the program.   

Courtney Clevenger

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