Fostering Care and Education

LCAN Spotlight: College and Career Action Network

May is National Foster Care month, “a month set aside to acknowledge foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and other members of the community who help children and youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections,” according to Nearly 400,000 children and youth are in foster care, yet a mere 2-4 percent will obtain a bachelor’s degree (Casey Family programs, 2010). This sobering statistic is one reason that MCAN is especially pleased to highlight the efforts of the College and Career Action Network, which strives to connect with foster youth in Kalamazoo County, and has made great strides in supporting their paths to achieving a postsecondary education.CACANlogo

Brenda Pickett, a convener for CACAN, always had a “soft spot” for foster kids. As a retired elementary principal, she knew foster students’ special needs were not being met by many school districts. Approximately five years ago, Pickett learned that the office for a statewide initiative, Fostering Success Michigan, would be housed at nearby Western Michigan University. She immediately made a connection with FSM’s Director of Outreach and Training Maddy Day, and included her as a voice in CACAN’s efforts. This collaboration led to greater training of school counselors, and increased resources to assist foster care youth.

Because CACAN is part of the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Services Agency, it has access to school counselors from throughout Kalamazoo County. CACAN regularly meets with the counselors, and hosts county-wide professional development for all staff members who work with youth. Some of the training sessions focus on topics such as how to work with foster youth; youth trauma; and general obstacles experienced by students in foster care. Day frequently serves as a presenter at the professional development sessions. “The counselor to student ratio is difficult,” says Pickett. “We found that by better educating counselors [on how to support students who have experienced foster care], they become equipped with the knowledge to support these students.”

When asked about whether CACAN’s outreach has increased college access for foster care students, Pickett says that Tuition Incentive Program dollars have doubled and tripled at local Kalamazoo Valley Community College. The college boasts a Student Success Center, which was formed to provide extra assistance to students who may struggle with postsecondary education. This is especially helpful to foster care youth. Additionally, the Seita Scholars Program at Western Michigan University provides specific support to foster youth who are students, in the form of intense academic support, financial resources, education and training vouchers, and support for social and emotional success. It’s apparent that institutions of higher education in Kalamazoo County have identified a need to support foster care students who are in matriculation.

CACAN, the Student Success Center, and Seita Scholars Program provide examples of the comprehensive efforts needed to support at-risk foster youth on their path to attaining postsecondary education. And that’s fortunate, because “social and emotional well being are the biggest barriers to foster youth obtaining a college education,” says Pickett.

Local College Access Networks wishing to increase their support of foster care students should start by sharing training opportunities and resources with school counselors and social workers. Fostering Success Michigan regularly offers webinars and resources for free. Additionally, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has education planners, who serve 38 counties and provide one-on-one assistance to youth in foster care. The planners are available to conduct presentations and training on policy requirements and the specific educational needs of older youth in foster care.

LCANs also should expand their networks by including all stakeholders with a vested interest in foster care youth, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, Communities and Schools, Promise Zone representatives, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, community foundations, local university and college representatives, and other professionals associated with foster care.

“Listen to people. Brainstorm together,” says Pickett. Clearly, her strategies work. CACAN has a captive audience of vested community members who continually strive to support and improve the educational outcomes for foster care youth in Kalamazoo County.


Lisa King headshot 2013Posted: May 13, 2015

Author: Lisa King, MCAN consultant

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