Foster Care to College: Surviving the System
Story by Njera Keith, Reporter
Photo by Brenda Ladd
Difficulty in building close relation- ships is a lingering effect of surviving the foster care system, ACC paralegal student Angel Carroll said.
Carroll, who attends the River- side Campus, entered the foster care system when she was 14 years old and aged out of the system when she turned 18 earlier this year.
Although upbeat about her experi- ence and optimistic about her future, Carroll remembers being shuffled around in the system.
“When you leave a job, it’s nice to give two weeks notice. But your case worker could show up one day and say ‘let’s go’ and that would be it,” Carroll said. “I attended twelve schools in one year.”
Carroll has lived in foster homes stretching from Lubbock, in northwest Texas, to Victoria on the southeastern coast. Entering the foster care system was a shock and adjustments had to be made quickly. But having contact with her biological family provided some comfort for Carroll, and she has some fond memories of her time in foster care.
“The guys and girls in foster care with you become your family,” she said. “I’m still in touch with one girl who was in several homes with me.”
Carroll considers moving often without much warning as one of the hardest parts of being in foster care.
Loretta Edelen, the Community Outreach director and director of the Foster Care Alumni Program at ACC said many foster care alumni face destitution as soon as they exit the foster care system. They don’t have a permanent support system and many even face homelessness.
Edelen said she’s encountered students who live out of their cars while attending school.
However, for Carroll, the transition to college life was not too hard. Partly because of determination, she said, and partly because of programs like those offered at ACC.
ACC’s Foster Care Alumni Program was created in 2005 to help students, who are former foster care children, overcome challenges. The program helps students activate a lifelong tuition fee waiver that they are eligible to receive as foster care alumni. As long as Texas foster care alumni attend a public college or university, their tuition is covered through government programs. There are also programs that provide housing and book allowances.
The Foster Care Alumni Jump Start Orientation teaches new students how to navigate college and offers students free refreshments and transportation during the orientation.
Campus Champions, another initiative facilitated by the Foster Care Alumni Program, establishes ACC staff members as counselors who can offer advice on registering at ACC and provide information on available com- munity resources.
Every month the Foster Care Alumni Program offers gatherings for students who, like Carroll, experience difficulty meeting other students they can relate to.
“This may sound funny, but I’d like to see even more of those meetings,” Carroll said. “Because my relationships with people in foster care didn’t often last long, I’ve become closed off to the possibility of establishing new ones. It makes it really hard to meet people.”
Drawing on her own experience, Carroll encourages other alumni of the foster care system to keep working toward their goals.
“Keep your head up. Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “My goals didn’t seem attainable when I was in foster care, but now, I’m using my tuition fee waiver to pursue a para- legal certification. It does get better.”