Bill Would Offer College Help to Ex-Foster Kids

Otherwise, they “age out" of the system without a family for financial support.

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Foster children who “age out” of the system without family ties and support would get state assistance to attend college, under a bill introduced this week in the Pennsylvania House.

Such young adults “already suffer unique disadvantages compared with other students,”said Rep. David Hickernell, a Republican who is the bill’s prime sponsor. “While the General Assembly cannot replace parents, it can certainly help eliminate or greatly reduce the financial barriers to higher education for these students.”

Hickernell said that there are 22,000 Pennsylvania youngster in foster care, about 1,000 of whom leave the system each year as (technically) full-fledged adults. About 50 percent graduate from high school; just 13 percent attend college.

The bill doesn’t specify whether ex-foster kids would be granted whole or partial tuition waivers; it does say, however, that “all state-owned universities, state-related and state-aided colleges and universities, trade schools and community colleges” will participate in the program. Phone inquiries to Hickernell’s office on Wednesday were not returned.

The measure drew support from Peter Gottemoller, director of child welfare programming for Philadelphia’s Lutheran Children and Family Service.

“Any youth who is aging out of the system who doesn’t have familial ties to folks who have the resources for these kinds of things is more likely to end up in jail or homeless or addicted to drugs,” Gottemoller said. “Obviously they’re not as successful as adults as the general population.”

Indeed, one rationale for the bill is to keep ex-foster children from requiring government support later in life. The bill notes that “a disproportionate number of former foster youth are homeless, dependent on public assistance and unemployed. They are much less likely to enter and complete college than their peers.”

“Without additional supports,” Hickernell wrote in a memorandum, “it is clear that these children face significant challenges to ensure their future independence from government assistance.”

Gottemoller said there are some programs available to help young adults obtain college or trade school education, but the availability and support levels tend to vary from year to year.

“Those kinds of things would be extremely helpful to youth who are aging out of foster care,” he said of Hickernell’s bill.

House Bill 453 was introduced Tuesday, and was referred to the House Committee on Children and Youth. No hearings on the bill have yet been scheduled.

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