Program helps foster children attend college

Glick and Lupardo

The Fostering Youth Success Alliance proposed a $4.5 million budget this year to make it more realistic for young adults in foster care to go to college.

The coalition was formed in 2015 and consists of 18 organizations. Their program was awarded an initial $1.5 million to send 352 foster children to almost 70 SUNY, CUNY and independent colleges across the state, helping them transition to independent adults.

During a recent event at the Legislative Office Building in Albany, dozens of students met with supportive lawmakers to lobby for $4.5 million for the burgeoning program, in hopes of helping more foster children attend college in the next several years.

Betsy Wiener, a senior at SUNY New Paltz, was in foster care for 10 years. Before the fostering youth program, she relied on financial aid and the Education Opportunity Program to help her pay for college.

“These programs helped me to worry less about how to finance my school and really focus on my academics and being involved,” Wiener said. “I got to really embrace what college is about.”

There are 20,000 youths in foster care; 4,000 of them above the age of 14. Of these young adults, on average only one out of five will go to college. The fostering youth program aims to have the number of foster youth in college double in 2016.

Jessica Maxwell, of the Children’s Aid Society, said two years ago the fostering youth program was just an idea, but is now benefiting the students in need.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a new program for foster care in his 2016 State of the State and budget address. The program, Pave the Road to Independence, aims to help young adults in foster care economically, with housing and with education.

Members of the Fostering Youth Success Alliance say the governor’s proposal is “a good first step,” but more resources are needed.

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, chair of the Higher Education Committee, said foster youths don’t have the same pathway to college and financial support that others enjoy.

“We need to have an understanding that they [foster care youths] need a hand up not a hand out,” Glick said.

The coalition is also establishing the Judith Kaye Scholarship Fund, named after the state’s former Chief Judge, who passed away last month. Kaye was a strong supporter of the fostering youth program and her family requested that a scholarship be created in her honor.

This scholarship will help foster children pay for expenses above and beyond tuition such as dorm room decorations or a flight to study abroad.

Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, chair of the Children Services Committee, said that she pledges to continue to be the advocate for the state’s foster care youth.

Wiener said being in foster care has made her the person she is today, pointing out that each negative thing she had to deal with was a step to building her future. She is now pursuing a career in social work to give back to the community that gave her opportunities.

“For all of the youths that are sitting in front of me, and for anyone who listens to this, these services, utilize them, and really take advantage,” Wiener said.