Nineteen-year-old Jodi loves school. She’s learning new things, meeting new people and planning for a bright future as she pursues her degree through the Child and Youth Care program at Douglas College in New Westminster. It was something that was almost unimaginable for her as a child.
“I knew when we had no food. I knew when rent was late. And in the back of my head I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to college like 11-year-old me wanted,” says Jodi. It was at that age, she and her brothers were placed in foster care in BC where her family was living. She remained in care til she was 19.
Finding a place in and contributing to a better world is Jodi’s dream, but getting there can be challenging for former youth in care. Along with post-secondary tuition fees, students have to cover living expenses, which are almost $20,000 annually on average.
While over 80% of BC families with kids ages 19-28 support them financially, these supports are often not available to former youth in care like Jodi. Some students work multiple jobs while at school. Others hit pause on their education, withdrawing for a semester to work and save money, then returning when they can afford it.
The result? Many students take far longer to graduate. Or worse: some students burn out and withdraw altogether.
In 2020, more than 800 former youth from care like Jodi are attending school on a tuition waiver program to help cover tuition fees and hoping for support from the Youth Futures Education Fund, which helps mitigate basic living costs. Thanks to the support from United Way of the Lower Mainland and its donors, more former youth in care are getting a fair shot at success alongside their peers.
Equal opportunity for former youth in care
United Way is making an unprecedented commitment to former youth in care and will invest $350,000 into the Youth Futures Education Fund, up from $150,000 in 2018/19.
“Fifty (50) percent less youth aging out of care continue on to post-secondary studies compared with other youth. University graduation rates one-sixth or less. Other young people have family to fall back on for emotional and financial support, but former youth in care often have no one, making pursuing post-secondary education and future careers challenging. Former youth in care deserve equal access to education,” says Kim Winchell, Senior Director, Strategy & Operations at United Way of the Lower Mainland. “The Youth Futures Education Fund helps former youth in care cover those basic living expenses like rent, food and buying books, so they can focus more fully on their schooling and reach their full potential.”
“I’m able to study and fulfill my dream thanks to the Youth Futures Education Fund,” Jodi says. “I don’t have to worry about where my next meal comes from, being evicted or student loans. It’s such a good feeling to know that this support is there.”
Fund supports Indigenous youth
That support will pay big dividends. Like 26% of youth who received funding from Youth Futures in 2018/19, Jodi is Indigenous original hailing from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. She not only wants to be a vision of success for her family, she wants to pay it forward.
“This degree will help me get a job with the Ministry of Child and Family Development where I can change the future for other Aboriginal children and their families,” Jodi says. “Having a career is something that I haven’t yet seen in my family, so for me to be working towards breaking that cycle is really important to me.”
“These are life-saving funds which change the trajectory of many young peoples’ lives,” says Maureen Young, Chair of the Youth Futures Education Fund. “With the help of our donors, the Youth Futures Education Fund helped 464 young people pursue their educational dreams in 2018/19, up 24% from the previous year. We hope to do the same this year.”
United Way’s investment in the Youth Futures Education Fund helps ensure we are building a healthy, caring and inclusive community for everyone.
The Youth Futures Education Fund was collaboratively established by: Coast Capital Savings, The Province of British Columbia, and the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth. The Youth Futures Education Fund is guided by an Advisory Committee, held at the Vancouver Foundation and is administered by United Way of the Lower Mainland.
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