Approximately 15 percent of foster care youth attend college and only 2 percent graduate.
The USC School of Social Work partnered with United Friends of the Children in hopes of increasing that percentage by hosting the 10th annual “College Within Reach” event in October for Los Angeles foster children in grades 9-12.
United Friends of the Children is a Los Angeles-based organization dedicated to the premise that foster youth deserve a successful adulthood. Through housing and education programs, foster youth are provided with the opportunity to graduate from high school, attend and graduate from college, get a job, find housing and have a support system that moves them gradually toward independence.
Wendy Smith, director of instructional enhancement for the School of Social Work, is board chair of the organization and helped facilitate USC serving as the host of the event.
“I made the direct request to dean [Marilyn] Flynn, and it was her immediate grasp of the fittingness of the collaboration that made it happen,” Smith said. “She saw that this was both ‘neighborhood outreach’ and a terrific blending of education and social work, exposing disadvantaged young people to a great university campus and the idea of post-secondary education as a part of their futures.”
About 650 foster youth – more than double that of last year – attended the all-day event featuring workshops about college admissions, financial aid, SAT preparation and personal statement writing. During lunch, a college and resource fair gave students a chance to meet with representatives from 75 schools and organizations.
In addition to the workshops, students were given backpacks or duffle bags filled with notebooks, pens and a T-shirt, compliments of a donation from Warner Bros.
United Friends of the Children officials said events such as these are critical in exposing foster youth to different opportunities and encouraging them that higher education is an option.
“The bottom line is that students in foster care are collectively not getting good information about college, including the process and the timeline, which is so critical to be considered by schools,” said Monica Bomkamp Enia, the organization’s director of educational programs.
“Rather, they receive messages that college isn’t for them or that college is too expensive. We provide them with updated information and student voices that it is not only possible, but essential.”
More than 80 percent of foster youth say they are more likely to go to college because of this event, the organization reported.
Although this is the first year the USC School of Social Work has partnered with United Friends of the Children, Smith said hopefully it will not be the last.
When children, including foster youth, develop awareness of higher education and college preparation requirements, the likelihood of their pursuing and completing college goes up, Smith said. That is why collaborations like these are important, she added.
“When they receive the message from concerned adults in the environment – like all of us at USC – that their futures and interests matter, their belief in themselves is strengthened,” Smith said.