April 25, 2011

Win the Future for Foster Kids

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:35 am by Nova Newcomer

Originally posted on BlueOregon.com.

The future for youths in foster care in Oregon is bleak. According to a 2006 study of former youths in foster care from Oregon and Washington cited by the Oregonian, one in five will become homeless, one in six received welfare and one in three lived at or near the poverty level. College graduates on the other hand, have lower unemployment and poverty rates, contribute more to tax revenues and are less likely to depend on social safety-net programs.

House Bill 3471, co-sponsored by Rep. Michael Dembrow (D) and Rep. Matt Wingard (R), would create tuition waivers at state and community colleges for young people who have aged out of the foster care system with no permanent family.

Representative Julie Parrish makes the case that in these tight budget times that we can’t afford HB 3471. Indeed we are struggling to set priorities this session with so many worthwhile and effective programs on the chopping block. But one thing is sure, we can’t afford more homeless, hopeless kids in our state. I don’t think Rep. Julie Parrish “hates kids” as she says people will say about her because of her opposition to the bill. She has an amazing story of self-sufficiency — pulling herself out of homelessness. And yet, why do we want a society that requires vulnerable people to be superheroes to make it out? I don’t believe in superheroes, but I do believe in the power of education.

What if these vulnerable kids had a promise that college was waiting for them? Granted there are about 300 kids in community college, university or post-secondary school this year (400 teens have aged out of the foster care system each year since 2006) under the current funding system which includes a number of grants available to foster care kids. But even so, do statistics tell us that the current system is working for this population? At some point, we will need to decide if we are going to invest in our kids or if we are simply going to manage the outcome of little investment. With outcomes already so dismal for this population, it might be time to follow what 16 other states have done — provide college tuition waivers for foster care kids with no permanent family.

We can subject kids in foster care to the same market forces which are forcing many college students today to gamble on loans to pay for a future that is not assured. Or we can say to foster care kids, your lives have been gambled with enough already. We want you to know that your state wants a future for you and we are so strong in our commitment to you that we are going to make it a sure thing. If a youth coming out of the foster care system in Oregon wants to work hard to earn a degree (something that statistics show is difficult for this population), I say we gamble on rewarding their ambition in the face of such great odds.

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