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EDITORIAL: Fostering higher education for former foster children

Peter Mombourquette, chair of the department of business and tourism at Mount Saint Vincent University, said the university has offered virtual lessons for several years, so they have worked to enhance them during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure students still get access to a high quality of education.
The MSVU Post-Care Tuition Waiver Program will be phased in, with a pilot for a maximum of 10 people starting in January and a full launch in September 2021. - Contributed

Children raised by their biological families usually don’t have to worry about “aging out” of their parents’ support.

But it’s a completely different story for foster kids, whose government-sponsored support largely ends when they legally become adults.

In too many cases, what suffers is these young people’s education.

We all know what a shortfall in education can mean. Lack of opportunities. Lower income levels. Poorer health outcomes. Despondency sometimes leading to drug and alcohol abuse.

That’s why initiatives that open up post-secondary educational opportunities to adult students who spent time in foster care are so important.

So, we warmly welcome the recent announcement by Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax that it plans to join a growing number of educational institutions across North America offering free tuition to such youth.

The MSVU Post-Care Tuition Waiver Program will be phased in, with a pilot for a maximum of 10 people starting in January and a full launch in September 2021.

How important are such programs? Ask Jane Kovarikova, who spent 10 years in Ontario’s foster care system and knows firsthand the challenges facing youth who suddenly find they must fend for themselves financially.

“We know from the statistics that about 60 per cent of foster children, after leaving care, tend to drop out of high school,” Kovarikova told SaltWire’s John McPhee last week. “That’s pretty consistent across multiple studies, whether it’s America or Canada.”

Kovarikova, who herself dropped out of school at one point, considers herself lucky that she had a grandfather who helped pay for her undergrad tuition at Laurentian University in Ontario.

She went on to earn a master's degree at the London School of Economics and is now pursuing a doctorate at Western University, where she teaches, in political science specializing in international election monitoring.

Kovarikova is also founding director of the Child Welfare Political Action Committee Canada, the advocacy organization behind the free tuition for former foster kids initiative.

There’s inescapable logic in her cause.

Governments provide stable support for foster kids who, for various reasons, are unable to grow up within their own biological families. It’s the right thing to do — both for them and for society.

But when those same foster children become adults, our collective interest in seeing them become healthy, contributing members of society obviously doesn’t end. Too often, however, our support does.

That’s not in anyone’s interests.

So, kudos to Mount Saint Vincent, which decided after a September presentation by Kovarikova and IWK clinical social worker Krysten Anderson (with assistance from MSVU professors Shane Theunissen and Fernando Nunes), to join the initiative to provide free tuition for former foster children.

Julie McMullin, the university’s vice-president academic and provost, told SaltWire the concept fit well with MSVU’s founding philosophy — to provide educational opportunity to those otherwise without access.

We hope more universities will get on board.

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