Western and affiliates offer aid to students raised in foster care

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Jane Kovarikova is a Western doctoral student advocating for policy changes to benefit people who 'age out' of child welfare. She is the driving force behind Western's and its affiliate colleges' commitment to supporting people who have been in foster care.

Without access to post-secondary education, Western political science PhD candidate Jane Kovarikova isn’t sure who, or where, she’d be.

She had attended (and left) five high schools by grade 10 and, by the time she ‘aged out’ of foster care, her social worker urged her to apply for welfare, not university.

But one academic counsellor had a workaround that would satisfy her drive for a degree: attend college as a mature student, then transfer credits en route to a university degree.

Kovarikova earned a BA and then an MSc in Human Rights and became chief of staff to an Ontario parliamentarian, where she helped shape legislation to help reduce youth homelessness.

Since then, Kovarikova has advocated for better pathways for aspiring students who have aged out of Ontario’s welfare system.

Today, Western – along with Brescia, Huron and King’s university colleges – announced a commitment to provide financial support each year for as many as 35 students who no longer qualify for support under the child protection system.

As part of the program Western will offer assistance to five incoming students each year, eventually reaching up to 20 students at any one time as they progress through their education. Western’s financial support will be approximately $50,000 per cohort, translating to approximately $200,000 per year for as many as 20 students.

That commitment can range from tuition and textbook relief to housing supports, depending on students’ individual circumstances and needs.

“I really believe this will make a big difference,” said Kovarikova.

“Basically, if you grew up in care and you find the institution you’re interested in attending, these institutions have committed that the financial part won’t be a barrier to getting in,” said Kovarikova, founder and  head of Ontario’s Child Welfare Political Action Committee.

And those barriers are often enormous: of the 1,000 Ontario teens who age out of care each year, about 400 qualify for postsecondary education. Just 20 per cent of that number – about 80 per year ­– pursue post-secondary education.

That is a huge loss of potential.

While Kovarikova is exceptional, she refuses to believe she should be the exception.

Many children in care have come from poverty and, because of frequent moves, have often fallen behind in school. Some aren’t ready for postsecondary education until they are long past the arbitrarily low age limit for child welfare support.

They face psychological obstacles and logistical barriers, and difficulty answering basic OSAP-application questions such as who are your parents and what is their income.

From age 18 to 21, youth receive an allowance of approximately $875/month. After that, foster youth are expected to be fully independent, credentialed, and career-ready for life as contributing members of society.

Education levels the playing field for people like me. I am grateful that financial access to university education will no longer be a barrier to social mobility for even more people who were raised in Ontario’s foster care system,” ~ child welfare advocate and PhD candidate Jane Kovarikova.

“If you were or are in foster care, know that Huron, Brescia, King’s, and Western, believe in you,” Kovarikova said.

The Child Welfare PAC is a federal not-for-profit that represents the interests of children raised by the government. The advisory committee includes professionals from academia, law, business, advocacy & public service who have lived experience in child protection systems.

Western president Alan Shepard said, “Jane’s success and leadership are inspiring—we want to encourage others to follow in her footsteps. We’re proud to join the growing number of schools committed to helping crown wards achieve their academic goals.”

Kovarikova’s aim is to have buy-in from all 45 public post-secondary schools in Ontario. In addition to Western and its affiliated university colleges, Georgian College, Laurentian University and Loyalist College have signed on.

Prospective students who have aged out are welcome to bring their questions to any and all of the virtual open houses scheduled at each institution’s virtual open houses and fall preview days. (Nov. 7 at Brescia and King’s university colleges and Nov. 15 at Western and Huron University College.)

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“Overcoming adverse childhood experiences is all too often a monumental climb for youth. Now their incredible resilience and perseverance are matched by this game-changer – top-calibre university education from caring and premier schools. Kudos to Western, King’s, Brescia and Huron.” ~ Chris Steven, executive director and CEO, Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex.

“At Huron, we believe everyone, no matter background or socio-economic status, deserve access to education. It’s what defines Huron’s mission of delivering elite, yet accessible education, while challenging our students to be Leaders with Heart. Having this partnership will ensure a clearer path to education for those crown wards. Now more than ever, our hearts need to be in everything we do, and we must always enable success and opportunities for those in less than ideal situations,” ~ Barry Craig, president of Huron University College.

“The Ursuline Sisters, who founded Brescia in 1919, believed that every student should be provided with access to education – regardless of their circumstances. They acted on this belief by consistently finding new and innovative ways to financially support Brescia students. Today, we are proud to continue the Ursuline’s tradition by forming this new partnership, which will not only help to remove financial barriers for crown ward students, but will also help enrich our community of leaders by adding new and diverse voices to our campus.” ~ Brescia interim principal, Cheryl Jensen.

“A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. All of us at King’s are dedicated to improving the lives of the poor by breaking down barriers to education. We are humbled to help enable former Crown Wards to be fully part of society by aiding them with a King’s education rooted in social justice, equality and the education of the whole person.” ~  David Malloy, Principal of King’s University College.

“Overcoming adverse childhood experiences is all too often a monumental climb for youth. Now their incredible resilience and perseverance are matched by this game-changer – top-calibre university education from caring and premier schools. Kudos to Western, King’s, Brescia and Huron.” ~ Chris Steven, executive director and CEO, Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex.

“Education opens doors, inspires, and brightens futures. I am incredibly thankful to Huron, Brescia, King’s and Western for their commitment to our community. This historic leadership illustrates how Londoners care about one another and promote a kinder, more just, and brighter community.” ~ Terence Kernaghan, MPP for London North Centre.

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Related:

Advocate pushes for child-welfare change, August 2020