Foster children get tuition support
TheStar.com – Ontario/parentcentral.ca/Education
August 25, 2010. Jasmeet Sidhu, STAFF REPORTER
Like any other university student, Aisha Aberdeen is anxious to graduate.
She’ll be entering her final year at the University of Toronto in September, where she has been studying forestry and Caribbean studies.
But unlike other students whose undergrad years may have been filled with dorm parties, spring break trips and summer internships, Aberdeen has had a more difficult path to her degree.
“I’ve taken a bit longer than most students,” she says.
Aberdeen is 27 and a single mom. When she was just 14 she arrived from Trinidad, and less than four months later was placed as a Crown ward with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.
She left her foster home at 16 and dropped out of high school soon after.
Aberdeen’s path is typical for the roughly 18,000 children in Ontario being cared for by children’s aid societies.
Less than half of foster children complete high school by age 21, and less than a quarter of those go on to post-secondary education. By contrast, 75 per cent of Ontario youth finish high school and 40 per cent get a post-secondary education.
However, Aberdeen is on her way to defy the statistics with some much-needed financial help. She is one of the more than 100 young people in current or past foster care who on Wednesday received more than $200,000 in scholarships from the Hope for Children Foundation. Aberdeen will get $2,000 this year to help with tuition.
Mary Bowyer, executive director of the foundation, said the financial assistance is critical for youth who are forced, by provincial legislation, to leave care at 18, jeopardizing their chances of saving money for a post-secondary education.
“When you were removed from your home, that may have caused educational delays and change of schools. Being taken away from friends and families is stressful for any young person and can impact their learning abilities,” Bowyer said.
“But when you turn 18, the state requires you leave foster care. They don’t have access to the same resources that children not in care receive.”
Social policy expert John Stapleton agrees and says youth should be allowed to stay in foster homes until they are 21 if they choose to, and that the province should financially support those in care until age 25.
“The real de facto age of adulthood in our society is much higher and people are leaving home much later. If child welfare agencies are in the position of being a parent to a child, they should be doing what any normal good parent would,” he said.
After a couple of years of getting into trouble and working in “meagre” jobs, Aberdeen decided to straighten out her life and enrolled in the U of T’s transitional year program.
She knows she’s in the minority of former foster kids who make it to university, and is aware how the foster care experience can permanently affect a person.
“The system fails us, it truly fails us,” she said.
“You have to leave at 18, and you hope to the best of your ability to finish high school. But (foster children) come from broken families, stressed situations. Most people forget that.”
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