McGill Scholarships and Student Aid will offer the Youth in Care Bursary to applicants for the 2017 Fall term. The new bursary program is designed specifically for students who grew up in the foster care system, intending to lessen the financial load they incur from a lack of parental support. The bursary will award a minimum of $5,000 per academic year for those enrolled full-time in an undergraduate program.
According to a SSMU report, only 13 per cent of Canadian foster youth apply to post-secondary institutions, and less than 2 per cent of former foster care students obtain a bachelor’s degree. The Youth in Care Bursary strives to change these statistics by making McGill more financially accessible.
Cara Piperni, director of McGill Scholarships and Student Aid, was responsible for drafting the program’s eligibility requirements and fitting it to McGill’s student aid resources.
“[With this new program] we’re identifying a candidate and guaranteeing [them] a minimum amount,” Piperni said. “Then, based on their [province, program, and year of study] we’ll match them to the bursary funds that we have.”
The bursary program was initially suggested at Cafe Collab’s March 21 focus group, “Doing it on Your Own.” Cafe Collab, a project within the Student Equity and Diversity of Education (SEDE) Office, hosts a series of focus groups that bring together students from the McGill community to discuss their experiences accessing student services and to share their ideas about how these services can better suit their needs. The aptly named “Doing it on Your Own” workshop focused on reducing barriers to access for students who had grown up in the foster care system.
"One of the themes of the discussion in the Cafe Collab [Doing it on Your Own] workshop was the idea that former youth in care often lack the kind of familial support that many students take for granted,” Parker Finlay, SEDE’s Cafe Collab project coordinator, said. “This is one of the reasons that many former youth in care have to rely on their own means to attend a post-secondary institution.”
Former Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) funding commissioner Arisha Khan’s report “Fostering Post-Secondary Success: Support Programming for Students From Foster Care,” inspired the “Doing it on Your Own” session. Now SSMU VP Finance, Khan is a former foster youth who attended the Café Collab session.
Khan did not receive financial assistance from provincial government bursary programs and similar support programs provided by provincially subsidized academic institutions because she never obtained crown wardship status, meaning a provincial government never made her its legal responsibility.
“I had a file since I was six, and I was in and out of homes until I was 18, but I never became a crown ward [of Ontario….] and because I was never classified as a crown ward, I wasn’t allowed to receive those grants,” Khan said. “That is why I struggled financially in school.”
The McGill bursary is different from government-subsidized programs because it does not require wardship for the eligibility of prospective foster care students.
“The McGill bursary […] recognizes that the government may have let you slip through the cracks, but since you’re coming out of the system with this history you’re still eligible for support,” Khan said. “It looks at the issue holistically and not if you fit into one checkbox.”
Melanie Doucet, who also attended the workshop, is a former New Brunswick foster youth, and is a PhD candidate in McGill’s School of Social Work, whose research involves students aging out of care. She thinks the program is a great start toward making McGill a more equitable institution, but that it could go much further.
“$5,000 per year is not going to go very far for a former youth in care, who doesn’t have the typical family support that a non-former youth in care would have,” Doucet said. “And someone who is enrolled [in class] full-time is not going to have a whole lot of time to work part-time on the side to make ends meet […] It’s definitely a good start, but it can definitely go further.”