More ex-foster children than ever are enrolled in B.C. post-secondary education, and a similar program at Western University attempts to ease the financial burden for students from foster care.
Since British Columbia has waved tuition for former Crown wards, the province reports that 229 students in December 2017 were receiving support, in comparison to the 189 students in 2016-17.
Western, in coordination with the Ontario government, implemented a similar program in the fall of 2013.
Under the agreement, which is also in effect at 35 other post-secondary institutions across the province, ex-foster students can receive a maximum of $6,000 per academic year to cover tuition and other fees.
Jane Kovarikova, a PhD candidate at Western and former foster child notes that while the financial assistance is a step in the right direction, there is still much work to be done. Foster children face a number of unique challenges in addition to the typical financial and academic pressures of student life.
"Youth who leave care are especially cut off from typical supports received from parents. Care packages, emergency funds and emotional support are often in short supply. Holidays can also be especially stressful for youth from care," Kovarikova said.
Kovarikova adds that "two key barriers to completing post-secondary studies are mental health and loneliness." She also identified stigma surrounding foster care as an important barrier preventing foster children from pursuing post-secondary education.
Western began funding former Crown wards in 2013. Glen Tigert, Western registrar, said that last year, the program supported 10 students.
"[The program] aligned nicely with our commitment at Western in terms of student access and support for educational costs," Tigert said. "We put our names forward as being willing to partner with the government on this particular initiative."
He points out that students who have come through the foster care system also have access to other financial resources offered by Western, including bursaries and the work study program. Tigert said Western has contributed over $155,000 towards the initiative so far.
Tigert notes that Western is happy to participate in the program. "We think it's a worthwhile endeavor; it aligns well with our overall objectives of supporting students who have financial need, and from our point of view it seems to be working well."
Kovarikova, who founded the Child Welfare Political Action Committee in 2017, stresses that financial support is not enough. "It is absolutely essential to address these [social and emotional] barriers to increase graduation rates for youth from care."