People tend to ask me why I don’t look like my sisters, and I answer that question with pride: My family adopted them from Guatemala. They became a permanent part of our family when I was 6 years old. My sister Sarah was just 1 year old, and Kimberley was only 6 months old.
I can’t help imagining how hard their lives may have been if they stayed in the foster care system in Guatemala, which is similar to the American system except the process is longer.
But Temple is partnering up with the University of Pennsylvania Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research to make college more accessible to former foster care youth by granting free housing to them over academic breaks. This is an important act for Temple to counterbalance the struggles of disadvantaged young people. I am proud to attend a university that’s working toward this.
Not all children in the world are as lucky as my sisters to find forever homes so soon or at all. As of Sept. 30, 2015, about 428,000 children were served by the American foster care system, according to a 2015 report from the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Of this number, 2 percent, or nearly 8,500, of these children were 18 years old — the college-entering age.
Adolescents in foster care have neither the financial stability nor the same resources as children who grow up in middle- to upper-class families. College is an unattainable fantasy for them. As a result, foster children are more likely to be unemployed or work minimum wage jobs.
“You have a boxed mindset that you belong to a certain place and that’s the only place you feel comfortable with,” Korrie Keo, a former foster care youth, told The Temple News last week. “You are basically a prisoner of your own brain.”
Temple, Cabrini College, West Chester University and the Community College of Philadelphia are all involved in offering former foster care youth housing during academic breaks, and the four universities have been meeting about five times a year since 2016.*
“The program is still in the works,” said Harold Brooks, Achieving Independence Center’s education services coordinator. “But we are working toward it becoming a reality in the future.”
“The purpose of the meeting [Wednesday] is to hear students voices…to address the issue,” Brooks added.
The average cost of Temple housing was $7,540 in 2016-2017, while room and board added up to $11,426. Some students choose to live off-campus, but the cost of utilities and other living expenses are still a hassle. This is a conflict especially for students who come from a complicated financial situation, like foster youth.
“Over 70 percent of foster youth aspire to go to college, yet they attend at less than half the rate of their peers, and many who do enroll in college do not make it past their first year,” Sarah Wasch, the Field Center’s program manager told The Temple News.
The average family struggles to put their child through college, and students are burdened by crippling loans after they graduate. Pennslyvania has the highest average student debt per borrower in the nation at $35,185, according to the Washington Examiner — a newspaper focused on politics.
So students exiting foster care at the age of 18 do not have many options financially. It is important for Temple to ease their hardship. We should be doing whatever we can as a community to make sure these young people don’t end up in the streets.
“A lot of Temple students that are in foster care are embarrassed,” Keo said. “They are invisible because no one really wants to talk about it, but they do need the help.”
Not much information on the new program is available yet, but it is gracious that Temple is listening to the voices of those who may not always feel prioritized.
Although the policy is not officially enacted, it is a step in the right direction. And I’m hoping that Temple will become the 76th university in the U.S. to offer this kind of program.