A college student arrives to class.
Virginia lawmakers are considering a solution for college and university students who came out of foster care and may not have a place to return during breaks.
Del. Anne Tata, R-Virginia Beach, is proposing House Bill 1403 to require higher education institutions in Virginia to provide housing access at no cost to foster students during holiday, spring and summer breaks.
The bill passed the House Education Committee with unanimous support Wednesday and now goes to the House floor.
“It’s not a lot of people, but it does happen that when foster kids do go to a four-year college and have different kinds of breaks, they have nowhere to go and end up in homeless shelters,” said Tata.
Between 400 and 500 youth age out of foster care every year and are in temporary foster placements when they turn 18 years old, according to a joint statement from the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Voices for Virginia’s Children and the Children’s Home Society of Virginia.
The groups, which are supporting the legislation, say the bill would prevent foster students from becoming temporarily homeless “during some of the most sensitive times of the year for youth who do not have families.”
Furthermore, they say, reducing homelessness among Virginia’s “most vulnerable youth” may provide opportunities for the state to increase its percentage of youth who obtain four-year degrees. According to the three groups, only 3% of young people who age out of foster care nationwide obtain a four-year degree.
State officials are aware of the problem students from foster backgrounds face during periods when colleges and universities are closed. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia has identified points of contact at institutions of higher education to help foster youth secure housing over breaks.
“Looking at student populations, there are a subgroup of students that need so much support,” said Erin McGrath, assistant director of college access and pre-K-12 outreach at SCHEV. She said Virginia’s community colleges provide “fantastic support” through the Great Expectations program, which is designed to support young adults through their college journey, and “we’re just looking to grow efforts on our four-year campuses to support them as well.”
According to Tata’s legislation, eligible students must be registered for the following academic term and meet the definitions and conditions of the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which supports the enrollment and education of homeless students.
Last session, Tata’s House Bill 349 directed local social services departments to provide housing support to people between the ages of 18 and 21 who have aged out of foster care.
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