By: Saba Gebrai, Park West Foundation Program Director.
As Program Director of Park West Foundation, Saba Gebrai has managed the only foster care specific College Prep program for high school seniors in foster care in Michigan, for more than a decade. Under her leadership, College Prep students and alumni have produced the largest trauma informed College & Resource Fair event for Students in Foster Care, called “Jump Shot Your Future” in Wayne, Genesee and Kent Counties, supported by numerous community partners and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
70% of foster care students aspire to attend college, but only 10% achieve this. Here are tips to support Wayne County foster care students pursuing higher education.
Care of students in foster care are supervised regularly by the court, determining reunification and support. For those under 18 years of age, the biological parent or guardian remains the Education Rights Holder unless the court determines otherwise.
Students in Foster Care are often separated from their families and may live in various settings. Transportation plans can be coordinated with the help of school district based foster care liaisons to ensure frequent moves do not get in the way of students’ ability to remain in the same school.
Schools can and should involve a Student Identified Support Person during transition planning and court proceedings. The Student Identified Support Person can advocate for various needs covered by Youth In Transition funds which also helps pay for SAT Preparation, Senior Dues, Campus Housing deposit among required school fees.
Students in foster care who remain in foster care at age 13 or after, can claim independent student status for college financial aid and qualify for Fostering Futures Scholarship, even if their foster care case closes before age 18 for any reason. Child welfare workers can provide the DHS-945 form for verification.
Entire school community should be involved in raising awareness about the challenges of foster care students for a more inclusive school community. MDHHS program which subsidizes host families to keep students in the same school should be accessible to all.
Consider students’ overall well-being when providing academic support. Connect students to mental health services and safe space within the school, to address trauma and emotional challenges. Connect students with councilors and peer support through Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative (MYOI) and Park West Foundation College Prep to learn from college students with lived expertise of foster care.
Consider these basic tips as a guide when providing support for improved access and success in higher education for Wayne County students in foster care.