Foster children in this state and others face a daunting challenge when they turn 18 and "age out" of the foster care system. While the goal of the system is to provide foster children a stable life and ease their transition into becoming self-sufficient adults, DCYF, the state's foster system, and the children's experience rarely make achieving the goal easy.
While DCYF's "Independent Living" program is useful to teach foster children rudimentary life skills for living on one's own, it's not designed for people intending to enter college. In fact, living successfully on one's own is not the most likely path ex-foster children follow. When foster children age out, they often find some substitute for the support system they loose. The military provides one such home. Another, sadly, is the state prison system. I did not have time to look into the percentage of inmates who have been in the foster system, but a 1980s study in New York City 30-40% of homeless young people had been in foster care and that 26% had been in jail or prison. A California program that provided many post-foster system services including furnished apartments, food allowances, and life skills training did much better, with about half the youths reaching college.
The college environment provides a very good stepping stone with students learning life skills from family and peers, in addition to teaching the academic material to permit graduates to enter the workforce and become productive members of society.
SB 168 won't provide all the support to help someone through college, nor should it - learning independence requires taking responsibility, and that's best done over a few years. The cost to implement SB 168 is substantial, but so are the costs for foster children who graduate into the state prison system. The bill's Fiscal Note assumes an annual average tuition is $7,500. The annualized cost for incarcerating an inmate is $28,000, so clearly the state benefits if the tuition waiver keeps just a few youths out of the prison system.
The mere presence of the program will give foster children an extra path to a more hopeful future and encourage them to pursue that goal. Students who follow that path may benefit the state many times over.
NH Dept. of Corrections Annual Report, for the year ending June 30, 2005.
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Last updated 2007 March 7.