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Western University, affiliated colleges join push to assist students aging out of foster care

Western political science PhD candidate Jane Kovarikova. supplied by Western University

Western University and its associated university colleges are announcing a commitment to provide financial support to up to 35 students a year who’ve “aged out” of the foster care system and no longer qualify for support.

Western says it will assist five incoming students each year at a total of about $50,000. As they progress through their education, that will climb to as many as 20 students at one time for about $200,000 in total per year.

Read more: ‘Maybe I can help other families’ — Young woman advocates for child welfare system reform

“I really believe this will make a big difference,” said Western political science PhD candidate Jane Kovarikova.

Kovarikova understands first-hand the experiences of those in the foster care system and now advocates for other aspiring students who’ve aged out of Ontario’s welfare system as the founder and head of Ontario’s Child Welfare Political Action Committee (PAC), which helped facilitate the initiative.

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“If you were or are in foster care, know that Huron, Brescia, King’s and Western believe in you.”

Similar initiatives were secured within the last year at Georgian College, Laurentian University and Loyalist College.

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Kovarikova attended five high schools by Grade 10 and when she aged out of foster care, she was encouraged to apply for welfare, not university.

In a release from Western, Kovarikova says one academic counsellor had a resourceful workaround — “attend college as a mature student, then transfer credits en route to a university degree.”

She has since earned a bachelor of arts degree and a master of science in human rights before becoming chief of staff to former Barrie MPP Rod Jackson, where she contributed to legislation to help reduce youth homelessness, Western says.

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Each year, roughly 1,000 Ontario teens age out of care. Of those, about 400 quality for post-secondary education but just 80 of them pursue it.

Western says they can “face psychological obstacles and logistical barriers, and difficulty answering basic OSAP-application questions such as who are your parents and what is their income.”

From the age of 18 to 21, they receive about $875 per month but after they turn 21 they’re “expected to be fully independent, credentialed, and career-ready for life as contributing members of society.”

“Jane’s success and leadership are inspiring,” said Western president Alan Shepard.

“We want to encourage others to follow in her footsteps. We’re proud to join the growing number of schools committed to helping crown wards achieve their academic goals.”

Read more: ‘This is what it’s all about’ — Pickering family fosters children in Durham Region

The head of the Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex, Chris Steven, said overcoming adverse childhood experiences is often a monumental task.

“Now (these young people’s) incredible resilience and perseverance are matched by this game-changer – top-calibre university education from caring and premier schools. Kudos to Western, King’s, Brescia and Huron.”

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Kovarikova hopes that one day all 45 public post-secondary schools in the province will offer similar financial assistance.

Open houses for prospective students will be held over the next two weeks on Nov. 7 at Brescia and King’s and on Nov. 15 at Huron and Western.

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