Nationally more than 70% of youth in foster care would like to get a college education, according to Connecticut Voices for Children. But 20% of foster youth go to college and only 5% graduate, the organization said.
The advocacy group testified Tuesday before the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee in support of HB 5299, which would require the state Department of Children and Families to provide access to higher education, vocational training or employment training programs for youth who have been in foster care until they reach age 30.
“For young people who left DCF care at 18 and now want to return to school, young people in DCF care who pressed pause on school while they managed the trauma of living through a pandemic, and young people in DCF care who decided not to go to college amidst a pandemic, this bill would provide another chance to finish their education or vocational training,” said Lauren Rush, a researcher for CT Voices, in her testimony.
The bill was raised by House Chair Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, after CT Voices issued a report authored by Rush and Ryan Wilson that called for more help building stability and financial wealth for foster youth aging out of the system.
“It’s important that people who are in foster care have as much of a chance as anybody else to get an education,” Elliott said. “Because they are under the care of DCF, that should at least translate into a medium-term investment of resources by the state.”
The bill would change the law to extend the age that former and current DCF youth could receive post-secondary education or vocational training funding to 30. An estimate hasn’t been developed on how much the bill could cost.
“A lot of people won’t use the option,” Rush said, responding to questions on how many former and current DCF foster youth are likely to participate. About 10% of eligible foster care youth are participating in a similar program after Minnesota raised the age for educational funding for those in state care to 27 last year, Rush said.
But DCF officials said that would mean the agency might have to pick up the tab for college or training and support services for close to 5,000 former and current foster care youth who are now between the ages of 18 and 30, said DCF Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes.
“DCF policy currently provides for financial assistance for post-secondary education expenses up to the amount of attending Central Connecticut State University,” Dorantes said. “Implementing the bill’s provisions would also require DCF to hire more specialized staff and fund additional contracts with community providers for support services.”
Dorantes said the bill doesn’t take into consideration that youth who are about to “age out” of the system at 21, or if they receive a waiver, 23, continue to receive case management and other services.
“These services are an integral part of ensuring success for these youths, but it is not contemplated in this legislation for the proposed older age cohort,” Dorantes told the committee.
There are currently about 1,100 youth ages 18 to 23 who are receiving DCF services while they complete their education or vocational training with financial assistance from the agency, Dorantes said.
Susan Myers, president of the Connecticut Council on Adoption, said that young people who have been in foster care may need more time to access college or vocational training due to the trauma they experienced early in life.
In some cases they had to repeat grades or are delayed in starting kindergarten due to unstable homes which makes them graduate high school later, Myers said. “Additionally, because of the impact on children and youth of trauma related to neglect and abuse leading to their involvement with the department (DCF), many of them are not prepared to begin college or vocational programs at the same time as their peers and may need additional time to complete a course of study,” Myers said.
Caron Quanick, a foster mom who adopted a son from the agency, told lawmakers, “I think foster youth need support beyond the age of 21 because children who have grown up with trauma often take a good amount of time to access education. When their basic needs are not being met, they are unable to make strides academically.”
Many foster youth will need to work full time while in school, Quanick said. “This will further the need to extend the time funding is available to them,” she said. “If this funding is truly put into place to break the cycle and create a better future for foster youth, we must make it accessible to them.”