Aunt Leah’s Education Program aims to assist foster youth and moms in achieving their educational goals. Avis Lam, our Education Program Coordinator, works with her team in constructing integrated academic and career plans for each of the program participants. An important part of this role is acting as a wayfinder for young people to navigate the complexities of the post-secondary education system while ensuring they are aware of the resources already available to them. A part of these resources is the BC Tuition Waiver Program, which assists foster youth financially and can alleviate the need for them to use student loans to pursue their studies. The age restriction for this waiver program has recently been lifted for foster youth. In this interview, Avis explains that despite the added government support, foster youth seeking Aunt Leah’s help has increased.
“The complexities of government programs and how they are delivered have been difficult for youth to navigate and understand. Now that we are meeting with more youth about starting school or coming back to school, we have been able to address this misinformation about the tuition waiver, by holding information sessions.“
How has Aunt Leah’s education program been affected by the extension of the BC Tuition Waiver Program to foster youth with no age restriction?
“We definitely have noticed an increase in participants coming back to connect with us, inquiring about the tuition waiver, or thinking about education in general. Now that the age limits with the tuition waiver are being removed, we see more people inquiring about furthering their education.”
There was previously a lot of misinformation about the education program eligibility and the tuition waiver, recently revealed in the Ombudsperson’s report – Misinformed: How the Ministry of Children and Family Development failed in its permanency planning obligations to a youth in care
“The complexities of government programs and how they are delivered have been difficult for youth to navigate and understand. Now that we are meeting with more youth about starting school or coming back to school, we have been able to address this misinformation about the tuition waiver, by holding information sessions.
The removal of an age cap for the tuition waiver program allows youth to have more time to upgrade the credentials and skills they need for admission to programs and to take the time to find a program that will suit them best.
As well they have more time to set themselves up to go back to school – to find and secure safe, affordable housing, and improve life skills and employment skills.
One of our participants has come back to Aunt Leah’s for support, and we have already signed them up for school now that there is no longer an age cap.”
What kind of supports are youth looking for when accessing Aunt Leah’s Education Program?
“Help with how to navigate the system, sign up, understand how the registration system works, tutoring, and funding – even though tuition is free through the BC Tuition Waiver Program, and the Learning Grant which helps with textbooks, technology and supplies, these programs don’t offset other costs for participants pursuing their education.
Youth may need help with childcare, transportation, and emergency housing and food.
We regularly connect youth with learning centres and tutors at their schools or through United for Literacy (formerly Frontier College), an organization that provides no cost volunteer tutors.
Sometimes students need alternative tutoring support, usually when their school does not offer a tutor for their studies (often advanced studies), and we help to find private tutors to ensure participants have the appropriate resource to support them in their studies.”
What recent highlights in the past 3-6 months would you like to share? ?
“All of the tutors from United for Literacy have been very attentive and supportive with our participants. We’ve had a few graduates for sure, which is always exciting. A few graduates from college, and then we have one participant who has graduated from high school, getting ready to move on to college. One of our participants has recently made it onto the dean’s list at their school, and we are extremely proud of them and celebrate this achievement!”
What is on the horizon for Aunt Leah’s Education Program?
“We definitely need to strengthen our upgrading services. There are more youth accessing our services, who have not been in school for a long time, or their experience with education has not always been positive.
I always feel that it’s so important to build up every individual’s learning readiness and ensure that we have a variety of tutors available to support us as best we can. A drop-in homework club with tutors might work well.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
“Please consider supporting our program. We are 100% supported by individual donors and private funders. Our High Needs Fund and Emergency Housing Fund provided 56 young people with help this past year. The BC Government is beginning to step up with support for education and life skills learning. The big gap is support for parenting and childcare.”