- Report Published -
|Financial Aid for Youth in Foster Care|
|State Council of Higher Education for Virginia|
|SJR 322 (Regular Session, 1993)|
|Concerns about the availability of financial support for foster care youth between the ages of 18 and 21 prompted the General Assembly to pass two related resolutions during the 1993session. First, to address the specific needs of foster care youth "who are successfully attaining educational goals", the General Assembly passed Senate Joint Resolution 322, sponsored by Senator Louise Lucas, which directed the State Council of Higher Education to "study the feasibility of establishing a college financial aid program for youth in foster care." Specifically, the resolution addressed the following concerns:|
1. The cost of higher education continues to rise;
2. Financial pressures are among key factors in the ability of a student to enter college and to graduate; and
3. Students in foster care may be less likely to enroll in college due to cost, a lack of support services and limited knowledge about financial aid and the application process.
A copy of the resolution is provided in Appendix A.
Senator Lucas also sponsored SJR 323 which directed "the Department of Social Services to study the impact of requiring local departments of social services to continue foster care payments and services for youth over the age of 18 who are successfully attaining educational, vocational training, or treatment goals." The current foster care policy allows, not mandates, local social service departments to continue serving youth until age 21 who agree to remain in care and who are participating in educational, training, and treatment programs before the age of 18. The General Assembly passed this resolution when a few localities refused to serve youth over the age of 18.
This report will analyze how foster care youth are being treated in the financial aid application and awarding process, examine the financial aid structure in the state of Virginia, and offer recommendations for improvements within the current system. The recommendations represent guidance from Department of Social Services staff, social workers throughout the state, and foster care youth. They are based on three broad conclusions.
First, the application process for financial aid recognizes that foster care youth are financially independent of their parents. Therefore, only their own income and resources are used in the calculations of financial need. Because the majority of these students have limited resources of their own, their need for financial aid is higher than those students who are considered dependent on their parents.
Second, foster care youth in college receive an average grant award of $2,782, compared to the average of $1,917 for all independent students. Their overall financial aid packages, which include grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans, average $4,300 while independent students in general only receive $3,088. Thus, foster care youth tend to receive more financial aid than most students. In addition, the majority of foster care youth receive a monthly stipend from the Department of Social Services.
Lastly, the foster care youth in college who were surveyed reported that the financial aid they received was enough to cover their expenses in most cases, but many expressed confusion about the financial aid application and the process by which aid is actually awarded. Additionally, most of the youth replied that social workers were their main contact for information about financial aid and when contacted, social workers believed that access to financial aid training for themselves and their foster care youth is critical.
As a result, the Council recommends that a separate financial aid program for faster care youth is not needed. But SJR 322 provoked a review that indicates ways in which foster care youth could be better served. The following recommendations are offered to address the specific concerns of foster care youth and the financial aid process.
I. To increase social workers' knowledge about financial aid and the application process, the Council will
• work with the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (VASFAA) to provide training opportunities for social workers throughout the state;
• seek the support of VASFAA to include the social workers in any mailings announcing financial aid activities which currently are being sent only to high school guidance counselors; and
• provide, with the help of the Virginia Student Assistance Authorities (VSAA), financial aid resource materials to the 124 local social service departments.
II. To increase foster care youths' knowledge about financial aid and the application process, the Council will
• work with VASFAA and VSAA to provide financial aid workshops for foster care youth.