If you’re one of the 415,000 children living in the foster care system in the U.S., there are many educational programs you can take advantage of.
The federal government launched a grant program to cover college or vocational training costs to help foster children or former foster kids. Learn more about how this program can help you get an education and find a career.
How the John H. Chafee Grant helps foster children
Foster children leave the system when they turn 18, regardless of their situation. While other kids are packing up for college or taking a gap year with the encouragement of their families, many former foster children are on their own. Once they age out, the foster care system no longer provides financial support or other resources.
In an attempt to address this issue, Congress passed the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Act (FCIA) in 1999. The government designed the FCIA to help older foster children transition successfully into life as independent adults.
In 2002, the FCIA was expanded to include the Education Training Voucher (ETV) program. This is a federally backed initiative that provides foster children and former foster kids with funding and support for their educations.
How Chafee FCIA works
As part of the program, you could receive up to $5,000 a year as a grant to pay for qualifying education expenses. Since it’s a grant, you don’t have to pay the money back as you would with student loans. This can help make school more affordable.
You can use the Chafee Grant to attend an accredited college or a vocational school. The money can be spent on tuition, fees, books, supplies, housing, or transportation.
You can combine the ETV program with other scholarships or grants to reduce the amount of student loan debt you need to take on to pay for school. If you’ve exhausted those options, you can turn to federal student loans to fill the gap and pay for your education, as well. With grants and federal loans, you’ll have less debt after graduation.
The eligibility criteria can differ from state to state, but in general, you must fit one of the following criteria:
- Likely to remain in foster care until the age of 18
- Adopted at the age of 16 or older
- Between the ages of 18 and 21 and have aged out of the foster care system
To get the ETV grant, you need to be a U.S. citizen or qualified non-citizen and be enrolled in an accredited school. Some states also have limits on your personal assets, such as your savings account balance, car, and home.
Applicants must be at least 18, but younger than 21 when they apply for the first time. Because you can receive the grant for multiple years, you can reapply for additional grants to pay for your education each year until you turn 23.
How to apply
In most areas, the ETV grants within the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program are administered by the state.
To apply, look up the Child Welfare Agency in your state. You can find a list of program coordinators and their contact information on the Foster Care to Success ETV website.
If you can’t find your state, know that some states have third-party organizations that manage the grants program and have different application processes. These states are:
- New York
- North Carolina
To apply for an ETV grant in any of these states, visit the Foster Care to Success website and navigate to your area’s listing. The site will detail how to apply and who will handle your application.
To ensure you’re eligible for the grant, complete the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as many states require it. You might also have to prove progress towards a degree or career credential. Each state has their own limits on funding, so the earlier you apply for the grant, the better your chances are of getting one.
To continue to receive the grant, the states and distributing organizations require you to complete the FAFSA each year.
There are other forms that need to be completed for every term, as well. These are a Financial Aid Release form and a signed Student Participation Agreement. Both documents can be completed online.
The ETV governance also requires your school transcripts, showing progress towards your degree and the number of credits you’ve completed. You must also contact the ETV representatives twice a month to check in — either by phone or email.
Getting an education
With foster care college grants like the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence program and the Educational Training Voucher grant, you can afford to go to school without taking on a lot of debt.
As a former foster child, you might face unique problems and challenges. But getting an education can help you make the transition out of the system and lead to a successful career.
For more information on paying for school, check out these scholarships that will cover the complete cost of tuition and more.
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