If you are (or were) in a foster care program, or you know someone who is, you should acquaint yourself with the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. This important program helps foster kids transition into adulthood and cover some college or vocational training costs.
Here are three key questions and answers about how the John H. Chafee Foster Care Grant can help students coming from foster care system to get a great education:
- How can the John H. Chafee Foster Care grant help you?
- How much does the Education Training Voucher provide?
- What are other ways to pay for your education?
While other young adults are packing up for college or taking a gap year with the encouragement of their families, many former foster children are on their own, as they have aged out of the system. Once they age out, typically at age 18, foster kids no longer receive financial support from the government.
Congress passed the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Act (FCIA) in 1999 to help foster children transition into life as independent adults. In 2002, the FCIA was expanded to include the Chafee Education Training Voucher (ETV) program. This federally backed initiative provides students from the foster care system with funding and support for their higher education. The key focus is on kids who spend time in foster care at age 14 or older.
As part of the ETV program, a former foster child heading to college or vocational school may receive up to $5,000 a year as a grant to pay for qualifying higher education expenses. Because it’s a grant, you don’t have to pay the money back as you do with student loans, which helps make school more affordable.
You can use the ETV money for qualified higher education expenses such as tuition, textbooks, dorm fees, meal cards and paying back federal student loans. The eligibility criteria can differ from state to state, but in general, you must be:
- In foster care until the age of 18, or adopted from foster care at the age of 16 or older
- Between the ages of 18 and 20
- A U.S. citizen or qualified non-citizen
- Have a high school diploma or GED
- Be enrolled in or aiming to enroll in an accredited school college or vocational school
Some states may also have limits on your personal assets, such as your savings account balance, car and home.
Applicants must typically be at least 18, but younger than 21, when they apply for the first time. Because you may be able to receive the grant for multiple years, you can reapply for additional grants to pay for your education each year until you turn 23.
Some states allow you to apply past age 23; for example, in California, you can apply for the ETV as long as you have not reached your 26th birthday as of July 1 of the award year.
How to apply
In most areas, the ETV grants provided within the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program are administered directly by the state. To apply, you can look up the child welfare agency in your state, or Google “ETV grants” and your state name.
You can also find a list of states and their application information on the Foster Care to Success ETV website. There are seven states that work directly with Foster Care to Success to administer the grants — Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, New York and Ohio.
To ensure you’re eligible for the grant, you should complete the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as many states require it. You might also have to prove progress toward a degree or career credential. Each state has its own limits on funding, and the programs are often first-come, first-served, 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 include a Financial Aid Release form and a signed Student Participation Agreement. Both documents can be completed online.
The ETV governance also requires your school to mail your transcripts at the end of every term, in order to demonstrate you are making progress toward your degree and detail 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.
People who grow up in foster care often face unique problems and challenges. But getting an education can help you make the transition out of the system. With foster care college grants such as the ETV program, you can get assistance to smooth the transition to adulthood and make your way toward a successful career path.
You may combine the ETV program with other grants or scholarships to reduce the amount of student loan debt you need to take on to pay for school. There are other grant programs specifically for people from the foster care system.
For example, if you were in foster care through Casey Family Services in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Vermont, you may be eligible for a $10,000 scholarship. Alabama also offers the Fostering Hope scholarship, for which you can apply up until the age of 26.
If you’ve exhausted all your scholarship and grant options, you can turn to federal student loans to fill the gap and pay for your education as well. Private loans may also be an option, although you should take advantage of your grant and federal loan options first.
Rebecca Stropoli contributed to this report
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