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Brescia, King's, Huron university colleges to offer free tuition to former Crown wards

Three Western University affiliated colleges are among five post-secondary institutions in Ontario to offer tuition waivers for foster children who were Crown wards.

The three Western University affiliated colleges are among five post-secondary institutions to do so

Jane Kovarikova is a former Crown ward who is pushing for more access to post-secondary education for former foster children. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

Three Western University affiliated colleges are among five post-secondary institutions in Ontario to offer tuition waivers for foster children who were Crown wards. 

It's thanks to the work of a Western University PhD candidate in political science, whose own journey through the foster care system in Ontario made her see, from the inside, the barriers such children face. 

"There are psychological barriers and there are financial barriers, and I want to work on removing as many of them as possible," said Jane Kovarikova, whose family situation sent her into foster care at age 6, along with her siblings.

"Living in foster care is the sensation of always participating in other people's family lives. There's a push to return you to your original family, so you're always bouncing back and forth and you never know where you fit." 

Because they are quite small, Brescia, King's and Huron have worked in the past with students who had come out of the foster care system. But provincial money has dried up and there were no formal programs in place, until Kovarikova's push.  

Of the 1,000 kids who age out of the foster care system in Ontario every year, only 400 graduate high school. Of those only 80 go to university, and eight graduate university, Kovarikova estimates. 

'Getting creative'

"I've had people look me in the eye and say, 'Jane, you're going to fail.' My social worker wanted to help me apply for welfare, not apply for university." 

Most kids who leave state care at age 18 get around $660 a month until their 21st birthday. 

"You have to get really creative to survive on that amount of money," Kovarikova said. 

Although colleges and universities offer bursaries or scholarships, many are impossible for foster kids to navigate and apply for, she added. 

"When I go around to schools and they take 20 minutes to explain something to me, a PhD candidate, how is a 16 or 17 year old, who doesn't trust the system, going to understand it?"

Bridging a gap

About two or three students at Brescia each year are former Crown wards, said Marianne Simm, the school's vice principal of students. 

"Brescia has always been very supportive to many students. We provide wraparound support, not wanting money to be a barrier," she said.

Jane Kovarikova spent her early childhood in foster care, dropped out of high school, and then went on to pursue a PhD at Western University. She joined London Morning to talk about why she's advocating for free tuition for foster children. 6:44

"One of the challenges we have is getting students to come forward. Right now, they have to self-report," said Simm. "We have set up a much more transparent system, where students are pulled out of the regular assessment, because with these students, the story isn't in the transcript or the basic data. We have to have a conversation." 

King's University College wants to bridge the gap that foster kids might see between their life in care and their possibilities at post-secondary institutions, said Marilyn Mason, the school's vice principal of enrolment services and strategic partnership. 

"We will find the funds to make sure they are able to attend," she said. 

"The more diverse the background of our students, the more they bring to the discussion. There's a lot of student-to-student, student-to-faculty, and faculty-to-student learning going on." 

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