For Korrie Keo, growing up in the foster care system limits one’s perspective on life.
”You have a boxed mindset that you belong to a certain place and that’s the only place you feel comfortable with,” said Keo, a former foster care youth. “You are basically a prisoner of your own brain.”
Keo is also a program assistant with the education team at the Achieving Independence Center on Broad Street near Master.
Temple is looking to provide housing over academic breaks to students who recently transitioned out of the foster care system. In October, AIC employees and university officials will meet with about 50 students, who are former foster care youth, to determine their specific housing needs.
As an extension of the university’s Center for Social Policy and Community Development, AIC provides educational support to people transitioning out of the foster care system, including GED referrals and other methods of higher education assistance.
“We feel that it’s better that we really talk to the students first instead of assuming their needs,” said Harold Brooks, AIC’s education services coordinator.
When Keo was a teenager, she was a member of the AIC. Brooks, now her colleague, helped her fill out her FAFSA to attend the Community College of Philadelphia.
But Keo said if she had fully understood her potential financial aid benefits, she may have enrolled at Temple instead. Having signed out of the foster care system at 18 years old to live independently, Keo said she could have benefitted from the proposed housing program. Foster care youth age out of the system at 21 years old.
FORMER FOSTER CARE YOUTH & ACHIEVING INDEPENDENCE CENTER EMPLOYEE
Temple joins three other Philadelphia area schools — Cabrini University, Community College of Philadelphia and West Chester University — trying to adopt housing for former foster youth over breaks. The program is spearheaded by the University of Pennsylvania’s Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research, a clinical care, research and education center that helps abused and neglected children
“We’re advocating for system-wide reform in the way we as a community promote success in higher education for students who have experienced foster care,” said Sarah Wasch, the Field Center’s program manager. “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.”
Wasch said the four schools were chosen after each applied for assistance in developing a campus support program for former foster youth. She added that the Field Center wanted to address the issue of housing because it can often be disruptive to a student’s education.
Students eligible for the proposed housing program are identified through their financial aid application.
CSPCD has been providing foster care students with educational services, including tutoring, financial counseling and therapeutic services since the 1980s. CSPCD also holds college fairs that bring in undergraduate students from different majors to talk about their own experiences.
In 1999, the U.S. Congress enacted the Foster Care Independence Act, which delegated federal funds to states to provide independent living programs for youth between the ages of 16 and 18 transitioning out of foster care.
Brooks said Temple was part of the advisory board to determine how the funds would be used in Philadelphia. He added that AIC worked closely with the Department of Human Services to create policies and a bilingual resource guide for foster care youth.
“A large percentage of the youth we work with generally would go to community college first because [of] their experiences not only in the education system, but in the foster system,” Brooks said. “They just aren’t ready for the rigors of a four-year college or academic experience.”
Brooks believes each student will have their own set of issues to overcome, like insecure housing and unstable family relations.
“We hope through the growing trend of single points of contact on college campuses that more higher education administrators are learning about the challenges often faced by foster care youth,” Wasch said.
Keo said most people do not recognize the issues facing foster youth. By providing additional housing over breaks, these students will have a greater chance of succeeding academically, she said.
“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.”
Madison Hall contributed reporting.