On Sept. 23, UTSA — in partnership with Alamo Colleges, Texas A&M San Antonio and other local partners — announced the launch of a new foster care pilot project. The Texas Legislature gave the project $3.5 million to design an education pipeline for students who are currently in the foster care system, as well as former foster care students. The program will provide aid to foster care students who plan to seek higher education in seven key areas: life skills, cultural and personal identity, supportive relationships and community connections, education, physical and mental health, finances and employment and housing.
The announcement began with a testimonial by Krizia Franklin, a former foster care student and UTSA graduate. She explained how this pilot program will help not only foster care students who are already enrolled in college, but younger students who are planning to attend college.
“Before, when I was in foster care, there was little help,” Franklin said. “I am hoping this program is going to reach those kids at a younger age, prepare them for success and help them not only get into college but to stay in college and finish college.”
Franklin also spoke about working with Peggy Eighmy, UTSA’s first lady, and her role in the creation of this program.
“She actually came to me. My main role in this has been advocating and sharing my personal experiences to see how we can benefit other youth,” Franklin said.
Eighmy, has worked in the child welfare system in multiple states throughout her career. She was a primary advocate for the approval of the new program along with Franklin and social work professor Dr. Megan Piel. Eighmy’s past work encouraged her to search for a way to make an impact at UTSA, and that same impact has unfolded with this new initiative.
“I wanted to work with folks on campus to really build a program to provide our students with a history of foster care really all the support that they can use and leveraging the strengths that they have,” Eighmy said.
State Senators, Jose Menendez and Peter Flores, along with State Representatives, Ina Minjarez and Trey Martinez Fisher, were the key legislators assisting UTSA and Eighmy in getting this bill through the legislature.
To date, the colleges involved with this project have enrolled over 600 current and former students from the foster care system. This actualizes Eighmy’s goal of encouraging students to feel welcome on campus and empowered to succeed. The project plans to address more than the foster care participants already in college; partnerships with San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) and Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA) demonstrate UTSA’s commitment to making an impact throughout San Antonio.
Although students enrolled in foster care are eligible to receive free tuition and fee waivers, they are also likely to lack the support structures that assist other students through college, such as: knowing how to file for FAFSA, how to budget effectively, finding a place to live during the semester and breaks, a network of emotional support and financial means to buy books and necessary supplies.
One way UTSA provides support to foster care youth through the creation of “College-Bound” docket in San Antonio’s Children’s Court. The docket would focus on targeted mentoring, academic support and advocacy for young students preparing them for success in college. This will make education one of the key components that Children’s Court will focus on when assessing the health of children in foster care.
Another way UTSA wants to provide support to foster care students is in becoming a designated Supervised Independent Living program. This will allow youth to extend their enrollment in foster care until they are 21, and receive free housing in a dorm on campus. The designation is important to the overall vision of supporting foster care students in San Antonio, according to Eighmy.
“This campus-based support program… will provide much of the functions that kids need in a Supervised Independent Living program, but then they’ll first and foremost be Roadrunners… and the state will provide financial support that will cover room and board for those students,” Eighmy said.
Eighmy emphasizes the importance of finding a community for foster care youth at campuses like UTSA and this pilot program is the beginning of an even broader change across the state.
“If we are successful in increasing enrollment, graduation, retention rates, it can be replicated elsewhere,” Eighmy said. “You won’t be alone when you graduate… you’ll have your next place and your future will be so much brighter for it.”