Toronto

Life after foster care: A former foster kid's mission to make sure it includes college or university

The saying goes, ‘Life is full of uncertainty’ and while it applies to everyone, Jane Kovarikova says it especially rings true for former foster kids like her. 

Jane Kovarikova started the Child Welfare PAC in 2017

Jane Karikova surrounded by her Child Welfare PAC team at Queens Park in November. (Child Welfare PAC)

While the saying 'life is full of uncertainty' applies to everyone, Jane Kovarikova says it especially rings true for former foster kids like her.

"Most governments don't track outcomes after [foster] care because the system sort of ends for children at 18," she told CBC Toronto.

Kovarikova started the Child Welfare PAC in 2017. 

She and a team of volunteers with lived-experience in foster care — people who have gone on to become lawyers, doctors and academics — advocate at the legislative level to get better supports for young adults about to transition out of the system. 

As Kovarikova knows, there are challenges, if not barriers, unique to foster children trying to access to post-secondary education. 

"When I applied to college for the first, time it was an extremely stressful process because it says right on the form like, 'Who are your parents? How much do they make?'" she explained.  

"These questions can be really difficult for foster kids and that's a barrier. Then, if you do find a way to post-secondary, of course you're on the hook for tuition." 

Part of the non-profit's work is to get universities on board to carve out some money to fund either full or partial tuition for students who grew up in foster care. 

Jane Kovarikova grew up in foster care, dropped out of high school and reapplied to university as an adult and is now a doctoral candidate at Western University. (Grant Linton/CBC NEWS)

So far, they have five on board including Kovarikova 's alma mater, Laurentian University. They're hoping to successfully lobby six in early 2020.

Another goal of theirs is to get Canada to track the number of foster kids who do or don't go on to a post-secondary education. 

Right now, Kovarikova can only cite data from other jurisdictions and if those studies turn out to be true for Canadians, the success rate looks bleak. 

"In Ontario, approximately 1,000 children age out every year. Approximately 400 actually drop out of high school like I did. Eighty enter university and only eight graduate." 

The dreaded 18th birthday 

"Even if your foster family doesn't necessarily wash their hands of you. The support that they were receiving in order to support you it is also gone," said Ingrid Palmer one of the Welfare PAC volunteers. 

"Being in care as a racialized youth, with a disability, and having that child welfare involvement," she recalled, "it really led to a lot of stigma, discrimination and a lot of low expectation." 

Palmer who's legally blind remembers dreading her 18th birthday. 

"You kind of don't want that date to come because you don't know what's going to happen after that." 

Some will continue to get support with additional welfare cheques or some money for therapy sessions but those supports typically dry up by age 21. 

Ingrid Palmer remembers dreading her 18th birthday. (Grant Linton/CBC NEWS)

She managed to fund her own way through college working multiple jobs because for her not going to college was not an option.

"It helped me to find a sense of self-worth." 

She's a fierce advocate for the Child Welfare PAC because she knows how easily people can fall through the cracks. 

The Child Welfare PAC will continue advocating both at universities and at Queens Park in the new year, having scheduled a sit-down with Ross Romano, Ontario's Minister of Colleges and Universities in the new year. 

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