London

Western commits to support 35 former foster kids for post-secondary education

Western University and its affiliates are breaking down the barriers to getting a post-secondary education for children who were in foster care. The university is committing to help students with tuition, textbooks and housing.

Starting next year, those who have aged out of the child protection system will be eligible

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

Western University and its affiliates are breaking down the barriers to getting a post-secondary education for children who were in foster care.

The commitment means up to 35 individuals who have aged out of the child protection system will have access to financial assistance to cover their tuition, textbooks and housing, depending on their needs.

"Education levels the playing field for people like me," said Jane Kovarikova, a former Crown ward who had bounced around to five different high schools by Grade 10.

"I am grateful that financial access to university education will no longer be a barrier to social mobility for even more people who were raised in Ontario's foster care system."

Kovarikova, who is now pursuing a doctorate at Western, said when she aged out of foster care, her social worker urged her to apply for welfare. But with her mind set on getting a degree, advice from an academic councillor led her to attend college as a mature student and eventually earn a Bachelor of Arts.

Since then, she's completed a masters and founded the Child Welfare Political Action Committee, which helped facilitate the initiative.

Statistics show that about 1,000 Ontario teens age out of the foster care system every year. Of those, 400 qualify for post-secondary education, but only 80 pursue a degree or diploma. With schools committing to support youth who were in foster care, that number could increase.

Western will eventually support to up 20 students, while Brescia University College, Huron University College and King's University College will each support up to five students.

"Overcoming adverse childhood experiences is all too often a monumental climb for youth," said Chris Stevens, executive director and CEO of the Children's Aid Society of London and Middlesex in a statement. "Now, their incredible resilience and perseverance are matched by this game-changer, top-calibre university education from caring and premier schools."

Prospective students can bring their questions to virtual open houses taking place next week. Brescia and King's are hosting open houses on Nov. 7, and Western and Huron are hosting open houses on Nov. 15.

now