Students socialize in the SAC
Students socialize and study in the Student Activities Center

The College of Education and Human Development’s Center for Economic Education has received a $130,000, two-year grant from ECMC Foundation to study how colleges and universities are supporting youth formerly in foster care, particularly through the pandemic.

The project, Fostering Attainment Through Educational Supports (FATES), also will document and describe what campus support programs, if any, exist at non-profit, two- and four-year colleges and universities nationwide.

Jake Gross
Jake Gross

The FATES team, led by faculty member Jacob P. Gross, hopes the data will help colleges and universities better support youth who have been in foster care and are pursuing higher education.

“Although this is a small group, these youth are often overlooked,” Gross said. “Within this population you have individuals who are more likely to be Hispanic or African American and come from low-income families.”

Research related to youth in foster care hasn’t always been a focus for Gross, but personal circumstances shifted his interests.

“As I became a foster parent, I realized someone’s trajectory of attaining higher education really begins as a baby,” he said. “The opportunities that children get in this country are so stratified and based on access to resources they have. This research opened my eyes in a lot of ways.” 

A third of children who age out of foster care end up homeless. So, understandably, he says, higher education is not the highest priority for social workers in the child welfare system. But, as youth formerly in foster care graduate from college, there is a greater chance of breaking the cycle of inter-generational poverty.

The grant seeks to strengthen the network of colleges and universities who offer support programs to youth in foster care or formerly in foster care. Gross and his team, including undergraduate- and graduate-level researchers, will create a data dashboard that will allow for filtering by location, school and type of support program. Gross says this will prove helpful in a couple of ways – by housing all information in one place, and by creating a centralized location for researchers to compare their work.

Taylor Shaw
Taylor Shaw

Taylor Shaw, a master’s student in the College Student Personnel program, is a member of the FATES research team and is excited about the project’s potential.

“I worked at a non-profit in California called ‘Together We Rise’ that coordinates different assistance projects for youth in foster care or who have recently aged out,” said Shaw. “Through that work, I started to get a taste for how some colleges and universities do offer this type of assistance programs and how others don’t. A lot of the time, students have to seek this kind of information out on their own. That is fine – if they know how to do that, but many times they don’t.”

Shaw says she thinks the project will be a game-changer, not only revealing where these supports exist, but also tracking what works, building a standard for assistance programs. She also is interested in using the dashboard as a catalyst for creating support programs at UofL.

“Kentucky currently does not have a single support program for this population at our public universities. I would love to see UofL at the forefront of that work for Kentucky youth in foster care,” she said.

For more information on the team’s work, check out their twitter page @FATES_Workshop or the Center for Economic Education webpage.

Story submitted by Natalie Hewlett.