Graduation Season For Foster Youth
It’s that time of year again! Graduation season is in full swing, and thousands of foster youth are moving on to the next chapter in their lives. We want to congratulate current and former foster youth graduates who have worked hard and studied for long hours over the years! We’re so proud of you!
So what’s next? After high school graduation, many former foster youth often pursue a career path as caregivers or volunteer for others in need. They know firsthand how crucial it is to have someone there for you with love and support! Some will continue their education and apply to colleges. We would like to share a story of one former foster youth who overcame many obstacles and successfully graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2020.
Tamara Vest’s Story
Tamara Vest’s story was first shared by Lindsey Piercy with the University of Kentucky in 2020. After losing her father at the age of 9, was sent to live with her older brother. Sadly, Tamara did not receive the love or support she needed from her family. She experienced emotional and physical abuse at her brother’s home.
It was the most traumatic experience of my life. Going through just about every kind of abuse you could imagine as a young child and teenager was extremely hard. Even though they were my kin, I felt unwanted and unwelcome. I hated to go home, and school was an escape.
Eventually, Vest was placed in a foster home for almost a year and later joined a program that allowed her to live in an apartment with financial support. After turning 18 and enrolling in college Vest came to realize she wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.
I thought about the people who brought about positive change in my life — they were social workers. So, I decided to start there.
In 2018 Vest transferred to the College of Social Work at the University of Kentucky.
Paying It Forward
Between classes and studying for her bachelor’s degree in social work, Vest became involved with Voices of the Commonwealth. Vest shared her story and found herself doing work with foster care and child welfare. Vest shares,
I learned very quickly that my experience is vital to creating change for that population.
In April 2020, Vest and the team at Voices of the Commonwealth worked to pass the child welfare legislation, SB 115 (Foster and Adoptive Tuition Waiver). Way to go Tamara! Currently, she is continuing her education and earning a master’s degree in social work. Vest is continuing to pay it forward by actively advocating on a national level on child welfare issues!
Challenges Foster Youth Face
Vest experienced many challenges throughout her years as a foster youth and while attaining her degree. At one point Vest says, “One social worker paid my phone bill out of her own pocket. One social worker would help me with feminine hygiene products.”
Many foster youth do not pursue college because they face many barriers or do not have a stable support system. According to a factsheet put together by the Legal Center for Foster Care and Education, 32 to 45 percent of foster youth pursue higher education after graduating from high school. Only 3 to 11 percent attain a bachelor’s degree.
Barriers like financial difficulties and balancing work with school are a common struggle to foster youth attending college. Grants and scholarships available to foster youth are extremely helpful but do not cover all the costs. So a recent study by CollegeBoard found that students attending a four-year public college in 2020 spent an average of $1,240 on books alone!
Supporting Foster Youth
You may be wondering how we can continue to support foster youth and people like Tamara Vest? Together We Rise created the program Rapid Response to quickly address challenges faced by current and former foster youth pursuing college. This program provides financial support for things like housing, meal assistance, and education expenses.
Together We Rise also offers the Family Fellowship scholarship which offers a family-like support system to college-bound current or former foster youth. Each Fellow is offered financial and emotional support during their educational journey with tuition assistance, professional development opportunities, care packages, and much more!
There are many inspiring stories of former foster youth giving back to the community and pursuing their dreams. Supporting foster youth in their pursuit of education can help provide them with a successful career and brighter future. Consider making a donation today towards helping children in foster care and supporting foster youth. Thank you!