Students from Foster Care Help Shape Expanding College Aid Program

Posted June 7, 2024
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
In the foreground, a young woman sits on a lawn in front of a building. She peers down at a tablet in her hands. In the background, two other young women chat while standing.

Fos­ter Suc­cess Edu­ca­tion Ser­vices, a pro­gram man­ag­ing col­lege aid for young peo­ple with fos­ter care expe­ri­ence in Indi­ana, has put youth engage­ment prac­tices — those cham­pi­oned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive® — at the cen­ter of its work.

Now, the pro­gram has tak­en its improved prac­tices to Ari­zona, Mary­land and Ohio, expand­ing its reach.

Fos­ter Suc­cess Edu­ca­tion Ser­vices’ growth is just one exam­ple of how our Jim Casey Ini­tia­tive site part­ners are expand­ing their influ­ence,” said Cather­ine Lester, asso­ciate direc­tor with Casey’s Fam­i­ly Well-Being Strat­e­gy Group. In these new states, the pro­gram is show­cas­ing how part­ner­ships with young peo­ple can ensure their prac­tices res­onate with the expe­ri­ences and needs of old­er youth who have spent time in fos­ter care.”

Enhanced Sup­port Through Edu­ca­tion Coaches

Fos­ter Suc­cess Edu­ca­tion Ser­vices assigns each appli­cant an edu­ca­tion coach who pro­vides guid­ance through­out their edu­ca­tion­al jour­ney. These one-on-one ses­sions help stu­dents suc­ceed, offer­ing sup­port with finan­cial aid, aca­d­e­m­ic deci­sions and con­nec­tions to essen­tial cam­pus resources.

Oper­at­ed by Fos­ter Suc­cess, a Jim Casey Ini­tia­tive part­ner in Indi­ana, the pro­gram has man­aged the Indi­ana Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing Vouch­er (ETV) pro­gram for more than a decade. This fed­er­al­ly fund­ed, state-admin­is­tered ini­tia­tive pro­vides finan­cial, aca­d­e­m­ic and coach­ing sup­port to young adults who have aged out of fos­ter care and are pur­su­ing high­er edu­ca­tion or voca­tion­al training.

Youth-Dri­ven Improvements

Adopt­ing the Casey Foundation’s Authen­tic Youth Engage­ment Frame­work, Fos­ter Suc­cess active­ly incor­po­rates feed­back from young peo­ple who have expe­ri­enced fos­ter care to improve the ETV pro­gram and strength­en staff-stu­dent rela­tion­ships. Key youth-dri­ven improve­ments include:

  • Flex­i­ble Fund­ing Dis­burse­ment: By tran­si­tion­ing from mailed cards to direct bank account trans­fers, Fos­ter Suc­cess has elim­i­nat­ed delays and improved access to funds.
  • Mod­ern­ized Com­mu­ni­ca­tion: Respond­ing to youth pref­er­ences, the pro­gram now empha­sizes text com­mu­ni­ca­tion and offers vir­tu­al meet­ing options, sig­nif­i­cant­ly improv­ing response times.
  • Ongo­ing Feed­back Col­lec­tion: Reg­u­lar text sur­veys col­lect data on pro­gram effec­tive­ness and pref­er­ences, ensur­ing con­tin­u­ous improvements.
  • Holis­tic Sup­port: The coach­ing mod­el address­es nonaca­d­e­m­ic chal­lenges as well as prac­ti­cal and emo­tion­al needs, rec­og­niz­ing their impact on aca­d­e­m­ic success.

Embrac­ing Youth Voices

Youth voice has always been a cor­ner­stone of Fos­ter Suc­cess’ work,” said Jar­od Wil­son, senior direc­tor of impact and pro­gram­ming at Fos­ter Suc­cess. The expe­ri­ences, insights and dreams of young peo­ple guide us toward cre­at­ing a sys­tem that nur­tures resilience, fos­ters belong­ing and paves the way for unlim­it­ed possibilities.”

Involv­ing young peo­ple in the hir­ing process for Fos­ter Suc­cess staff, includ­ing cur­rent ETV pro­gram par­tic­i­pants, ensures that the team is aligned with the needs and per­spec­tives of the youth they serve. Par­tic­i­pants are com­pen­sat­ed for their time, gain valu­able pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ence and prac­tice hav­ing a say in deci­sions that direct­ly affect their peers.

I thought I would be alone finan­cial­ly and emo­tion­al­ly until I got involved with Fos­ter Suc­cess,” said LaNaya Mar­tin, who recent­ly served on an inter­view pan­el for the site and has par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Indi­ana ETV pro­gram. They have tru­ly pro­vid­ed me with many bless­ings and oppor­tu­ni­ties that I feel any­one should be able to expe­ri­ence and ben­e­fit from. In turn, I’ve been able to speak on what I’ve found nec­es­sary for youth to tru­ly feel com­fort­able with who­ev­er takes on the [coach­ing] role.”

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