Nance (2008) reported in an article from a foster youth advocate that, “up until recently, education has not been something that was on the radar for child agencies. Their primary focus was protection and safety. The number of foster youth entering college is “dismal” and it is almost negligible when you look at the overall population” (Nance, 2008). Growing up in the foster care system and dismissing stereotypes about foster/adopted children have fueled my passion for higher education. My mother instilled in me at an early age that education was important in order to live a successful life and it would open doors that would not be opened if I were uneducated. She made sure that I understood that I would be different in many settings because I was a female, black, and a foster care youth but I those identities should be my superpower and not a hinderance. I was encouraged to learn as much as I could and that nothing in life is giving to you.
Every personal accomplishment that have occurred in my life journey have been a way for me to connect and better aid the students I work with at North Carolina A&T State University professionally, personally, and socially. Being a Residence Hall Director provides me the opportunity to work with students from various backgrounds and environments that combat being low-income, first-generation college students, having behavioral issues, and adjustment issues. As I mentor, support, and supervise my students I am able to speak on my experiences and how I have overcome obstacles and things that I am still going through. In my experience of being a former student leader and a professional staff member I know that we must meet our students where they are and show them though experiences that they can be successful students if they take ownership of their academic success and have a strong support system
Leigh Branham’s 4 fundamental needs for humans include the need for trust, the need to have hope, the need to feel a sense of worth and the need to feel competent (Branham, 2012). Even though these needs were for managing people I thought about myself and what I needed when I entered my college career. I thought of the motivation that I desired, the support that I needed, and the sense of belonging. I went through college tenure with a multifaceted façade where I seemed to have the perfect college experience but in reality, I wasn’t sure what my true purpose was. I had to ask myself the question if I was continuing my education and going through this journey because of opportunity or of obligation. I realized it was both, going to college and having the chance to pursue a terminal degree is a privilege and an honor. In addition, it is an obligation because I knew I had be the key to open the door for those who would not have an opened door if it was not for me.
I knew I belonged to a population that was underrepresented and silenced because of the lack of preparation and access. Through my education experience, no one spoke on the topics of foster care or adopted youth. Recent observations show that youth exiting out of the foster care system face challenges that hinder their pursuit of higher education. These challenges include; low high school achievement, premature transition to independence, lack of family and other adult support, low expectations for success, housing insecurity, high rates of single parenthood, pressure to work full time to manage poverty, lack of transportation, and incarceration (Greenen, Powers, Phillips, and et al, 2015). Jackson and Ajayi (2007) study focused on the extent of the foster care system and access to higher education it mentioned that many are stuck with an outdated model of foster care in which education is somebody else’s business (Jackson and Ajayi, 2007).
Strong relationships and a support system are important for academic, professional, and social skills for foster youth, which makes it essential to study the topic of foster care student success in higher education. Pilivian, Allen, McDonald, and Westerfelt (1993) conducted an analysis on the long-term effects of former foster care youth revealed that their level of education is below the average for those of comparable age in their state or country. Foster youth were more likely to pursue vocational training than college. Youth discharged from family foster care generally completed more schooling than those from group settings and the younger the child at placement, the fewer years of schooling attained (Pilivian, Allen, McDonald, and Westerfelt, 1993). Being self-motivated, resilient and having determination was the key to my success. However, I think of all the students in that population who may not possess those qualities or who do not have the adequate support to succeed.
This paper will discuss a conceptual framework that will be constructed as an evidence-based approach of services and support for foster care youth that aid in success with matriculation through higher education with the ending result being increased graduation rates. The theories and models that support the conceptual framework are Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the strengths perspective. There was found to be at least six barriers that made it difficult for former foster youth to achieve their post-secondary educational goals. Those barriers include opportunities to explore options or information about applying, underprepared for college work, lack of financial obligation of family members, unaware of the financial aid eligibility, mental and behavioral health problems, and lastly student services personnel are not familiar with or prepared to address the unique needs of young people transitioning out of foster care (Dworsky and Perez, 2010).
The conceptual framework I constructed wanted to examine these barriers and see what is best to assist foster care youth. The problems that foster youth commonly experience within education and child welfare systems include instability, persistent low expectations, poor adult advocacy on their behalf, inadequate life-skills training, special education needs, and cultural sensitivities (Lips, 2007). In construction of this framework I wanted to depict a safe haven that foster care youth need and that is something they always wanted a stable “home”. In my current position I try to create an environment where students can thrive and flourish in a space that they can say it there home. Most students are not able to get what they need when they do go home but if I can make it a homely environment at the institution, I will.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory that focuses on describing the stages of growth in humans. The terms physiological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualization needs are used to describe the pattern that human motivations generally move through (Maslow, 1943). Maslow depicts his diagram in three units that describe needs that a human goes from the bottom to the top which are basic, psychological, and self-fulfillment needs. Similarly, my framework is constructed where a foster youth goes from the bottom to top in a process of receiving their basic needs during their high school, then they move to the services and programs from the institution and with those things they will end at the top with self-fulfillment.
The framework looks at campus-based programs and services that are geared for the transition of foster care youth from high school to college. Leading to the door of access there are steps that have things that foster care youth need in order to make it to college. They are in need of recruitment opportunities, a support system that can help them with the resources to get to college, and the opportunity to be involved in academic pathways. Academic pathways were created to try to help underrepresented students to not only enroll in college but to be successful while they are there. Academic pathways refer to instructional and organizational strategies, and meaningful assessments that extend from high school to college (Bragg, Kim, and Barnett,2006). Academic pathways are geared to support student transition by intertwining secondary and post-secondary education. Some notable academic pathways include advance placement courses, bridge programs, attending early and middle college high schools and gaining college credit in high school that bridge to college. Florida State University implemented a CARE program where it offers more generous admissions standards for low-income, first generation students who agree to participate in a comprehensive support program that begins with a summer bridge program where students have time to adjust to college-level course work while living on campus (McCurrie, 2009).
Once foster care youth receive all the resources needed from high school they will be able to gain access to college. In order for the population of foster/adopted youth to be successful individuals capable of thriving professionally, personally, and socially they need a strong support system. In order to assist foster/adopted youth it is best to understand the obstacles and challenges that they have encountered so that you know what practices will be more. I understand that foster care children are typically first-generation students in college and they require more attention and mentorship. Foster youth need a strategic plan that will help develop and strengthen then to acquire motivation and a meaning for a successful life when they have been a part of a system that failed to equip them with the basic level of stability, safety, and nurturing (Connected by 25, 2004). As a student affairs professional, I believe that the work we do is fundamental to social and academic success among our students. Becoming a student’s mentor or support system requires a vision and a passion to communicate with them and understand the complexity of their transition and progress in college. Choices and making decisions come with experience, learning, and this will help develop you as a person. Practitioners that work with foster students have to realize they can be the reason this population complete college and become successful in the global community or they can be the factor that causes them to stray in a negative path.
At the very roof of the house is knowledge and self-identity. In conjunction with the hierarchy of needs, my framework utilizes the strengths perspective which empowers individuals, families, organizations, and communities to discover their abilities, talents, and inner strengths and build on their natural environmental resources to thrive (Saleebey, 2000). Foster care youth need to know and understand who they are and how their experiences have shaped their learning. If you do not understand who you are then you will not understand your true purpose or needs. Seita Scholars Program at Western Michigan University aims to create a community of scholars among former foster youth. The scholars program has a student- centered program plan where they have scholars who are considered experts in the lived experience of foster care. These scholars are employed as peer leaders and they co-teach “University 101” courses exclusive to students from foster care (Unrau 2011). Once foster youth understand their purpose and the power that they possess then then can truly be successful scholars. It may take some time to understand but with the help of the institution they can grow into their self-identity.
Lastly, around the home you see practice, assessment/evaluation, strategic planning, and collaboration which is what helping the home stand grounded. In order to make sure that the needs and services are met for foster care youth there must be policies, procedures, and programming tools that must be put into practice. Once those practices are put into place there must be assessment and evaluation to ensure these practices are working. If they are working or need improvement there must be strategic planning conducted with the information evaluated and assessed. It is critical that there is collaboration with academic affairs, student affairs in order to maximize the success rates of foster care youth. Also, it is imperative that there is collaboration from child welfare and secondary because they are stakeholders in foster youth success and they are needed in the beginning process to ensure they have access to higher education.
Students who had been in foster care were significantly more likely to drop out before the end of their first year (21% vs 13%) and prior to degree completion (34% vs 18%) than low-income, first generation students who had not been in foster care (Day, Dworsky, and et al, 2011). An institution need to have goals and a mission that is committed to making sure all students are receiving resources and needs that are specialized for them. Institutions should be able to effectively understand that students come from diverse populations and each population should be offered the same opportunities without feeling another population is cared for more than others. Through this understanding, the campus community will invite support through practices and policies that would be implemented. All students expect to be safe, to feel needed, to be loved, to be accepted by others and to just be happy with themselves.
In order to have successful students that will be able to be productive in the campus community and onward we have to make sure we are providing for all needs. We have to make sure they are getting nurtured but are getting the resources to be independent as well. This framework gives a holistic approach as to what is needed starting at the foundation to the top which is institutional.