When a person has spent much of their life worrying about their safety, where they might sleep, how they will find enough to eat, etc. it has a significant negative impact on their ability to do well in school, learn new skills, and participate in developmental opportunities. This leaves a gap between youth in care or at risk of homelessness and their counterparts – a gap that money alone can’t bridge.
While the government in British Columbia has waived tuition for some former youth in care since 2017, and recently announced a program expansion, there are systemic gaps and limitations that continue to keep eligible youth from accessing education and the opportunities it can present. For example,
- the waiver only applies to tuition at specific BC universities, trades schools, and colleges;
- Adult Basic Education programs – necessary for many youth who have had to leave high school – is not covered but is necessary to prepare for college;
- youth must have been in care for at least 24 months;
- and the list goes on.
More importantly, the tuition waiver fails to address the lived reality of so many former youth in care who need stability, encouragement, safety, professional support, and time in order to be ready for the rigours of advanced education and meaningful employment.
At Threshold, a combination of our Foundations Program and the Rotary Education Pursuit Fund help youth see a path forward to education, training, and their professional goals. The Foundations Program comprises three phases, with each phase taking as much time and whatever additional supports a youth needs:
- Development: To assess youth strengths and needs, our team works with the youth to understand what needs to be completed, provides access to tutors and mentors, and walks alongside in pursuit of completing high school and/or a GED. We focus on setting a foundation from which the youth can find success when taking the next step. This development stage is critical to seeing success during the rest of the journey.
- Access: Given the skills and education gap, many former youth in care have felt that higher education is beyond them, and some have shared with us that they have had to give up that dream long ago. We access donor support for education costs* and help youth understand alternative paths to entry into post-secondary, and we can start to expose the youth to new experiences and learning that will aid in their pursuit of higher education.
- Sustainability: Of the youth at Threshold who are employed, more than 90% work in minimum wage or close-to-minimum wage jobs and are resigned to this being their only option and their future reality. Through the development and access stages of the Foundations Program, youth open opportunities that would have seemed out of reach otherwise.
The Rotary Education Pursuit Fund, initiated by the Rotary Club of Oak Bay with additional Rotary clubs now contributing, is a no-barrier opportunity for youth to have choice, voice and self-determination in accessing a wide variety of training options. While for some that includes traditional post-secondary training, it has also funded personal trainer certificates, laptops to access online training,
* Coast Capital Savings underwrites much of the Foundations Program cost, from staffing to supplies, application and student fees, and LEAP Gifts that help youth bridge the gap from school to the work force. They also contribute time and expertise in providing financial literacy training to youth.
For former youth in care – and any youth who has experienced or been at risk of homelessness – education and professional development are crucial to creating stability and growth. Post-secondary education, a trade, or even full-time employment may not be the goal for all youth, and we support all youth in pursuing whatever meaningful engagement in society looks like for them. Regardless, the Foundations Program is there to help all youth create brighter futures.