CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Some child advocates say a plan by a nonprofit group to convert a southern West Virginia campus into a college specifically for children transitioning out of the foster care system is not a good idea.
Tina Faber is based at West Virginia University in Morgantown and runs a state program called Mentoring with Oversight for Developing Independence with Foster Youth, or MODIFY. She told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that it’s very important for children in foster care to live a normal life and to be with peers who aren’t foster children.
Faber said many of the children she’s worked with likely wouldn’t choose to attend this type of college.
“They do not want to be known as foster kids,” Faber said. “They really shy away from that identity, and I think it goes back to they just want to be normal. They want to be seen as any other kid, any other young adult, and they want to experience going to college and all of those other things you get to experience. They crave that normalcy.”
Earlier this month, Olathe, Kansas-based KVC Health Systems announced a plan to give foster children a chance to earn two-year degrees at no cost to them.
KVC, which specializes in behavioral health care and child welfare, will take over several buildings at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology in Montgomery. West Virginia University is moving WVU Tech’s operations about 40 miles south to Beckley by this fall.
KVC initially wants to target children from West Virginia and have 200 students while eventually opening up the college to out-of-state students. The students would have access to behavioral specialists and mentoring programs.
American Association of Community Colleges spokeswoman Martha Parham had said it’s the first time she’s heard of a college being created solely for foster children.
Tommy Bailey, a legislative lobbyist in West Virginia for KVC, had said a traditional college environment isn’t always the right fit for foster youth because of the support network they require.
But Director Vicki Pleasant of the Charleston-based crisis intervention nonprofit organization Daymark said it would be easier to help foster youth attend an existing two- or four-year college.
“I have always felt that keeping youth in their communities, and wrapping services around them, is more productive than any other option available,” Pleasant said. “That means you utilize the services already available in your community.”
Pleasant said her group sponsored a house on the West Virginia State University campus in Institute in the late 1990s for students transitioning out of the foster care system. The students would live in the house before moving into one of the school’s residence halls or out on their own.
“We were able to focus on the youth and give them the time and the energy and the resources they need,” she said. “It really helped the youth in the program.”
Children’s Home Society of West Virginia chief executive officer Steve Tuck said he doesn’t see KVC’s plan as a viable option.
“We know and we work very hard in our shelters and foster care system to partner with local resources,” Tuck said. “My premise would be, among the nine community and technical colleges and the six or so smaller four-year colleges, the youth in this target population could be served far better in a community-based and decentralized approach to their individual circumstances.”
Foster care benefits are terminated at age 21 in most states, including West Virginia. Because foster students typically have no support system or homes to return to during summer vacation or the holidays, those in Montgomery will live on campus full time, Bailey said.