Program funds college for former Crown wards

By 
  • August 23, 2013

TORONTO - Matthew, like many 18-year-olds, is heading to university for the first time this September. But unlike many of his peers, he was a Crown ward and will be part of the first generation of youth leaving the care of children’s aid societies in Ontario to benefit from the 100 per cent Tuition for Youth Leaving Care program.

Matthew, who for privacy reasons didn’t give his last name, is entering a double major of Philosophy and English at Ryerson University in Toronto. With this new funding program, the provincial government is partnering with all of Ontario’s public universities and some colleges — in the GTA Humber and Sheridan Colleges are participating along with the publicly funded universities — to provide youth like Matthew an opportunity at post-secondary education.

Eligible students will receive up to $6,000 a year for tuition for up to four years. If they are between the ages of 21 and 24 and enrolled in an Ontario Student Assistance Program, they will receive a Living and Learning grant of $500 a month.

Eligible students will be former Ontario Crown wards who have been accepted by a college or university in the province, said Mary McConville, executive director of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, the organization that was in charge of Matthew’s care. Through the Access Grant for Crown wards and the 30 per cent off Ontario tuition grant for eligible students, the province will cover the first half of tuition costs. The schools will cover the rest.

“According to the Ministry, the program will support 850 former Crown wards provincially. Thirteen-hundred former Crown wards are currently attending school,” she said. “There will still be a need to assist youth with the purchase of books, computers and other educational supplies to support them in their studies. CCAS has more than 100 former Crown wards attending school.”

Matthew says that “from a lot of other students’ perspective, especially ones that are in second year or third year that have come out of Crown wardships, this program wasn’t in place at the time that they came out, so if they had that kind of financial backing, they would feel better and they would be more supported in the sense that they… don’t have to worry about where the money is coming from or what they’re going to do next.”

Without the 100-per-cent tuition program, youth would still be eligible for student loans, and in turn, the debt that accompanies these no credit check loans once school is finished.

“Our youth were eligible for OSAP and for bursaries and scholarships, such as those provided by our Hope for Children Fund,” said McConville, adding large amounts of debt was common.

“For young people who have already faced so many challenges in their lives and who are suddenly faced with living independently at a very young age, incurring debt can be overwhelming. Managing financially while going to school has been difficult for youth in care. Many do not consider a post-secondary education within reach, and because of this are unable to pursue the career paths they have dreamed about. This negatively affects their life chances.”

But what happens if tuition costs are above $6,000 a year or students enrol for more than four years? Matthew estimates that his tuition this year will cost about $1,000 to $2,000 above the $6,000 threshold. Although he would like more funding to be available, he believes that students who have to pay for some of their tuition themselves will better appreciate the funding they do receive, adding that students with part-time jobs can take the opportunity to learn how to save and budget if their stay in university is longer than the funding timespan.

“Six-thousand dollars a year is a hefty sum, very significant value,” he said. Matthew, however, will not be able to access the $500 a month Living and Learning grant until he turns 21. Though he would like to see the age of eligibility lowered to 19 or 20 and extended until age 25, “a lot 18-year-old kids in care or (who) just came out of care… don’t really know what to do with the money,” he said.

McConville said when youth in care turn 18 they are no longer Crown wards and they leave their foster or group home to live independently and receive “limited financial support” under Continued Care and Support for Youth until age 21.

“This is not enough to cover the basics of rent and food, let alone their other needs. For many, they must find full- or part-time work to augment that allowance,” said McConville. “The $500 allowance will be provided from 21 to 25 years for those youth still completing their diploma or degree.”

“I’m looking forward to actually meeting new people and kind of immersing myself in the subject I’m aspiring to partake in,” said Matthew. “I’m also part of a youth committee at the CCAS, and I want to propose ideas where kids can benefit more or covered more in post-secondary or even when they’re still in Crown wardships.”

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