- Dr. Steve J. Rios, Senior Director, Positive Pathways
- Brett McNaught, CEO, Educate Tomorrow and Supervisor of Positive Pathways Program
- Wendy Joseph, College Coach, Educate Tomorrow at Miami Dade College
- Dr. Amy Rubinson, Researcher and Care Coordination Manager, Educate Tomorrow
- Brandy Starks-Gordon, Changemaker/Peer Mentor, Educate Tomorrow; Graduate Student, Florida International University
- Janessa Collins, Natural Helper, Educate Tomorrow
FCAN host: Adriana Pavicic, Community Engagement Coordinator
On January 19, FCAN hosted a webinar highlighting many of the resources and supports available to help foster youth in Florida achieve an education beyond high school.
The webinar was specially designed for school counselors and college access partners.
“We just want to make sure that as many people know about this information as possible,” said Brett McNaught, CEO of Educate Tomorrow, a Miami-based statewide program that aims to help former foster youth graduate from college and succeed in life. “It’s extremely important that you have resources at your disposal so that you know the basics of what qualifies a student for opportunities, and you know who to reach out to if you have questions.”
The webinar also featured input from students who were able to utilize some of those resources over the course of their educational journeys thanks to Educate Tomorrow and Positive Pathways, a network of individuals with the goal of increasing the number of campus-based support programs.
Brandy Starks-Gordon, a graduate student at Florida International University who started working with Educate Tomorrow during her time at Miami Dade College, said it is crucial for anyone working with foster youth to be genuine and patient.
“You can say all of this (help) is available to you, but some students are just focused on survival,” Starks-Gordon said.
Get to Know: Positive Pathways
The Positive Pathways program, which is administered by Educate Tomorrow, was created in 2016 and funded by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) in response to a Florida law requiring collaboration between DCF and the state’s Department of Education. Per the statute, each Florida College System and State University System institution in the state is required to establish “campus coaching positions” for current and former foster youth. There are currently about 200 professionals in the statewide Positive Pathways network.
“Positive Pathways was developed in order to support these campus-based professionals,” said Dr. Steve Rios, senior director of Positive Pathways, which offers professional development to those serving foster youth on college campuses.
Rios noted that the number of students in Florida public colleges, universities, and technical colleges using the state’s tuition and fee exemption for former foster youth has grown from 4,230 during the 2015-16 school year to 6,758 during 2019-20, which represents a 60% increase.
As a result, Positive Pathways has helped significantly increase the number of Florida students in foster care using the state’s tuition and fee exemption. Foster youth in Florida may use the DCF tuition and fee waiver until they turn 28, whereas the waiver expires sooner for students in other states.
Resources for Florida Foster Youth After They Turn 18
In addition to the state’s tuition and fee exemption, Florida offers several supports for foster youth seeking a postsecondary education:
- Extended Foster Care (EFC): Young adults who would typically age out of licensed foster care at age 18 can remain in foster care until age 21 — or age 22, if they have a documented disability — while they finish school or gain work skills.
- Postsecondary Education Support Services (PESS): Depending on certain statutory conditions, eligible former foster youth may receive a monthly financial payment of $1,256; this may include applicable Education and Training Voucher (ETV) funding. The financial award is to secure housing, utilities, and assist with cost of living while attending a Florida Bright Futures-eligible postsecondary educational institution.
- Homeless Exemption: A student who is homeless may be exempted from paying tuition and fees at a Florida College System institution. For the purpose of the fee exemption, Florida law defines homelessness as, “A student who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence or whose primary nighttime residence is a public or private shelter designed to provide temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized, or a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.”
Connecting Foster Youth to the Resources Available to Them
Wendy Joseph, a college coach for Educate Tomorrow based in Miami Dade College, believes resources like the tuition and fee exemption can be a gateway for postsecondary opportunities for former foster youth in Florida.
However, in order to take advantage of these resources, Joseph said that these students must first believe they can succeed in college.
“The student won’t even complete the admissions application if they don’t believe that they are college material,” Joseph said. “The first step is to really establish that we believe in them, that there’s at least one adult who believes that they can do this.”
Dr. Amy Rubinson, researcher and care coordination manager for Educate Tomorrow, added that having the students identify and focus on their strengths is a good way of getting them engaged with the college-going process.
“Focusing on their strengths and helping them think about the things they can contribute to this world helps them figure out next steps,” said Rubinson, who shared additional examples of private, government, and community-based resources that can be used to support foster youth. “It helps them think about, ‘How can I find something that’s meaningful for me, as well as beneficial for the community?’”
Janessa Collins, a natural helper and youth advocate for Educate Tomorrow, first became connected with the organization during her 9th grade year. Collins shared her own perspective as a former foster youth, as well as some of the ways she connects current students with vital information about college.
Collins wants to make sure students in foster care feel a sense of belonging when it comes to continuing their education.
“Having some form of education should be for anyone,” Collins said. “We should promote that to students in (foster) care, that having some form of degree does bring in some form of wealth down the line.”
To learn more about supporting foster youth — or to view the recording and download the presentation — take advantage of these resources:
Be sure to visit our Past Webinars page for access to recordings and downloadable material from FCAN’s previous presentations.