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In the Pursuit of Post-Secondary Education - Social Workology

In the Pursuit of Post-Secondary Education

Transition age youth have a ton of resources available at their disposable for post-secondary education and on-going support but not without its own set of barriers. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, about half of all youth raised in foster care graduate from high school and 3% of those go on to graduate college. With the sad truth being that the child welfare system makes terrible parents, social workers must work extra hard to help youth not only graduate but take advantage of the ongoing support available. While this may not be an exhaustive list, this my starting point.

Prior to case closure or ASAP!

  1. Get Chafee involved- Chafee is a program that assists youth from 14-21 (or 23). Each state administers it differently and you can find out more about it by contacting your state or county child welfare. Services range from one-on-one support to groups and they cover topics including education, employment, housing, finances, well-being, and general independence. There are some stipulations around eligibility and states have different eligibility requirements.
  2. Confirmation of Foster Care Dependency- While Colorado has its own court document, other states may have different ways to prove this. Social workers want to make sure to provide their youth with confirmation of care. This is important for college and to prove their independent student status.

Financial Assistance

PELL Grant: Have them apply for FAFSA the October before the plan to attend college, although they can apply anytime up to when they want to go school. It is 1st come 1st served. Youth must answer yes the the foster care question on the FAFSA application and decline to answer questions about their parents. They should qualify for the Pell Grant which currently is about $6000 a year. While the FAFSA application will also allow them to apply for loans as well, once they are offered them at the school level, encourage them NOT to take them. If social workers are doing their jobs, we should be providing our youth with enough resources to pay for college without taking out loans.

Education Training Voucher (ETV): ETV is an awesome program for our youth with foster care experience. It allows them extra help towards school and living expenses. ETV will cut a check directly to them to help pay whatever housing and education expenses they have.

Forward Steps Scholarship: Scholarship for former foster youth.

Daniels Boundless Opportunity Scholarship: Scholarship for Former Foster Youth and Non-Traditional Students

**** Make sure your clients know that if they are consistently failing classes or dropping classes that they will owe money back to the FAFSA and ETV.

Post-Secondary Education

  1. Apprenticeships are valid options. They get paid a livable while they learn. There are always local programs that will work with youth to get them involved in apprenticeships. There are even pre-apprenticeship programs that work with youth to help get them exposed to what’s out there. This is a particularly good route for youth who are serious about starting work and making money. These are not easy programs and they can expect to work hard.
  2. Trade Schools are a good option for those who the traditional college route is not suited for. Make sure to look for a non-profit trade school like Emily Griffith. If they have to pay a lot out of pocket or take out loans, you are sending them in the WRONG direction. With all the other barriers they face, we do not need to be setting them up for financial ruin.
  3. Community Colleges and Junior Colleges are a great jumping off point for transition age clients. Former foster youth have often experienced a lot of school transition and inconsistent education. Community colleges offer a lot of extra support that I have found 4 year colleges to be lacking for this population.
  4. For the rare client, a four year university may be appropriate. Look at ALL options. Again, loans should not be the preferred payment option for these clients. Scholarships, ETV, and the PELL should cover all off tuition. Search for alternative housing options.

Find On-Going Supports

One of the biggest pieces to helping transition age youth navigate post secondary education is to make sure that they have the ongoing support they need in ALL the different areas.

Mental Health: Make sure they are connected with counseling if they want it and if they don’t, make sure they know where they can access it and crisis support.

Help them find the on-campus supports like the student access center, the lgbtq+ organizations, a mentor program, or the health center. Did you know that parts of an IEP can carry over to college? Make sure that if your client had accommodations, those are submitted to the access center.

Connect your client to the location Chafee services. A Chafee worker can be a useful tool in navigating the college system.



As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I often view the world through this lens. Social work shapes how I interact and understand every part of my life. Through social justice, policy, and even my own parenting, I am guided to view the world as a social worker.

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