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Center for Child Welfare and Adoption Studies receives $250,000 to help youth in foster care reach college

Less than 3 percent of youth who are raised in the foster care system earn a bachelor’s degree. Illinois State University is partnering with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to help change that statistic.

With grants totaling $250,000 from DCFS and a private donor, Illinois State’s Center for Child Welfare and Adoption Studies is establishing a First Star Academy at the University, which will help prepare high school-aged youth in foster care for college. Illinois State joins only a handful of First Star academies in the nation, including those at Loyola University, the University of California in Los Angeles, and the University of Connecticut.

image of Deneca Avant

Deneca Avant

“This grant will enable us to help transform lives,” said Associate Professor of Social Work and First Star Academy Program Director Deneca Avant of Illinois State. “This program will ensure high school students have the tools to focus on academic and life skills to help them not only finish high school, but enter college, complete college, and enter adulthood.”

The First Star Academy at ISU includes Saturday academic enrichment classes, year-round mentoring, caregiver workshops, and a four-week summer campus immersion program on campus scheduled for June of 2017 that will include up to 30 ninth- and tenth-graders from across Central Illinois.

Doris Houston

Doris Houston of Illinois State University’s School of Social Work

“So often students who live in foster care do not have the support or consistent role models that let them know college is a potential path. With this program, we want to change that.” said Doris Houston, director of the Center for Child Welfare and Adoption Studies that is housed in the School of Social Work at Illinois State.

The First Star Academy is another piece in a growing support network for former youth in foster care who attend Illinois State. Along with research, the University is home to a Foster Youth Scholars Program designed to provide academic and mentoring support for students. Houston sees First Star as another step in clearing roadblocks to higher education. “Success is about understanding what students need, and providing the resources that can help them succeed,” said Houston.

For additional information on the First Academy at Illinois State, contact the School of Social Work at (309) 438-3631.

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