Guest Blog: Foster Youth and the Pursuit of Higher Education
By Tim O'Brien, Education and Training Social Worker, Department of Children and Families
Did you know that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) supports hundreds of foster youth attending college each year? Every year more and more foster youth are taking advantage of support programs offered by DCF to help them with their pursuit of their higher education goals.
Making the decision to pursue higher education can be stressful for all students. Completing applications, meeting deadlines, and applying for financial aid are all factors that can ultimately impact where a student chooses to attend. When selecting a college, students have to consider a variety of topics, and making the right choice includes educational, social, and financial implications. The financial implications usually are a major consideration for foster youth.
Initially the thought of paying for college can be very worrisome for a foster youth, with the first thought always being, how can I afford to pay for college on my own? The answer is simple for foster youth: they are not on their own. DCF puts a strong focus on post-secondary attainment and works hard to educate foster care students and their adult partners on how to access financial aid and other supports. This year DCF has already partnered with MEFA and MASFAA to educate high school guidance counselors and college financial aid staff on the topics related to foster youth pursing higher education. The more our community partners are aware of the supports for foster youth, the better educated students can be when making financial decisions related to college.
It's imperative that each academic year all foster youth start the financial aid process by completing their FAFSA®. Foster youth are able to answer a specific question on the FAFSA that allows them to file as an independent student:
At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care, or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
By answering "yes" to this FAFSA question, students will be prompted to skip the section on parental income and assets. As independent students, foster youth only report their income and assets.
The FAFSA application and financial aid process can sometimes be a confusing and overwhelming process for families, and this is the same for foster youth. That is why DCF has supports in place to help any foster youth with the financial aid process or FAFSA-specific questions. DCF has Educational Open Houses in 27 different offices across the Commonwealth this month. All are opportunities for foster youth and foster families to complete their FAFSA with the help of DCF staff, receive information about DCF-specific financial aid programs, and receive support with the transition to college. For students already in college, DCF Education Specialists will also be on 15 different college campuses to assist students this semester. To learn more about dates/locations/times of DCF events, contact the DCF Adolescent Services Division at 617-748-2309.
DCF also has specific grant and scholarship programs for foster youth. DCF-specific programs are only one source of aid for students. Each program can be combined with the financial aid offers students receive after completing their FAFSA or with other scholarships received.
DCF Financial Assistance Programs include the programs listed below, and more information can be found at: www.mass.gov/dcf
Foster Child Grant Program
Foster Child Tuition/Fee Waiver Program
Education and Training Voucher Program
Each program varies in eligibility criteria. The above mentioned open houses and on-campus sessions are great ways for students to learn about these programs and confirm eligibility. It's only after foster youth see their entire financial aid package from their college of choice and combine that offer with their DCF resources that they can get the full picture of what their financial aid package and total college cost will look like.
Foster youth may be considered independent students for financial aid, but they are not alone when it comes to understanding the process and affordability of higher education. DCF and our college financial aid partners can help. There are no limits on where foster youth can look to enroll. With the right help and financial guidance, foster youth have limitless possibilities for their pursuit of higher education.