Policy makers should implement useful steps that the courts, child welfare systems, the Department of Education and the City University of New York (CUNY)/State University of New York (SUNY) system can take to alleviate the obstacles children raised by kin face when considering a higher education, according to a new report released by MFY Legal Services.
According to the report, children raised by informal kinship caregivers, such as grandparents and other relatives, find it difficult to reach a higher education due to financial aid application barriers.
In addition to difficulties completing the necessary applications, often times kinship caregivers living in poverty may not be aware of the legal benefits available to help them provide for the children in their care, the report said. “Consequently, children are missing out on opportunities to access higher education and break the cycle of poverty,” said Letitia James, a New York City Public Advocate, in a press release about the report.
The report focuses on data from the New York City area, and states that, “A recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation concluded that there were some 153,000 children in the state of New York being raised by relatives, whereas the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that there may be as many as 242,541 children in New York City living with relatives.”
For such families, particularly those in low-income areas, caregivers often have little or no experience navigating the college admission and financial process, the report states. These children can find it difficult to adequately complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as oftentimes they have been abandoned by their biological parents, and neither they nor their caregivers have many of the required documents to complete the FAFSA.
“FAFSA is geared to traditional families. It requires Social Security numbers and extensive financial information about parents. Few children in kinship care have contact with parents and many have never known them,” said Barbara Graves-Poller, supervisor of MFY’s Kinship Caregiver Law Project.
MFY analyzed various data in order to better understand the FAFSA difficulties experienced by families in several New York City communities. Among the key findings, MFY identified that, “Caregivers who must decide between kinship foster parent status and custodial arrangements outside of the foster care system frequently do so with no understanding of how these choices may impact the child’s subsequent needs, including the ability to access financial aid for post-secondary education.”
Additional hardship, the report says, is faced by “children outside of the foster care system who were not placed pursuant to any court order… and have no contact with their living, biological parents.” Such children will often “be ineligible for most forms of need-based aid unless they are granted a ‘dependency override’ by their school, a cumbersome process that varies widely from one institution to another.”
This report argues that instead of focusing on short-term care crises on an individual basis, long-term policy solutions need to be evaluated and implemented to address “the broad-spectrum of social, financial, and educational challenges kinship families face.”
While several of the policy recommendations deal with younger students in kinship-care arrangements, the report also makes practical recommendations for students at the onset of higher education. One such recommendation is that the New York City Department of Education should aim to increase funding to employ and train guidance counselors, especially in low-income school districts. The role of the guidance counselors should be to inform and educate kinship caregivers and students about the financial aid available for higher education. Another is for CUNY and SUNY to “generate uniform dependency override criteria so that applicants can access clear and consistent guidelines on the requirements early in the financial year.”
What do you think can be done to help kinship caregivers and children navigate the financial aid process? How should communities reach out to increase awareness of the steps children can take to fund their higher education?
Publication Date: 6/27/2014