HAZLETON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)– A law recently signed in the Keystone State is giving a brighter future to those kids who are in or just coming out of foster care.
“Luzerne County is really the birthplace of this initiative,” said State Representative Tarah Toohill. “Years ago, Brandon’s Forever Home partnered with Luzerne County Community College and president Leary was the first local community college in Pennsylvania to say if you are a former foster child or current foster child, we will give you free tuition.”
Governor Wolf signed the Fostering Independence Through Education Act into law in June and foster children will be able to take full advantage of higher education starting in 2020.
Toohill was a major proponent of the bill and got to argue that the children and the general public benefit from better serving this population.
“Every dollar that you invest in one of these foster youth, you will have a savings of seven dollars,” she added. “–Because youth that end up experiencing homelessness and don’t end up getting their GED, a high school diploma and they end up not getting to have this college experience–even getting a two-year certificate or a six-month certificate– they’re not getting and of that extra education and becoming employable.”
Before they age out, these foster children are already against the odds and statistics say that 70% of them want to get that higher education, but don’t believe it’s possible.
“These are children who, through no fault of their own, are so deserving,” said Brandon’s Forver Home co-founder Lorine Ogurkis. “–If they have the ability and want to be able to proceed in obtaining a college education, they should.”
Lorine Ogurkis has been a champion of foster children, including a parent, for over a decade and has seen the struggle from both sides.
“As a foster parent, as the years have come by–foster parents haven’t had options,” she said. “They didn’t have an idea of what they can assist their foster youth in obtaining and achieving.”
The new state law and programs that have been in place are the first step in avoiding harrowing statistics for those foster youths who could have such bright futures.
“We have all of these children who are here, locally,and are going to, within one year of aging out of foster care, become homeless, involved with crime, become addicted, juvenile delinquents or pregnant. Because of that transition into adulthood and unfortunately they don’t have a safety net.”
The co-founders of Brandon’s Forever Home are elated to have these opportunites cemented for previous, current and even some former foster youths–but will be working around the clock until they see that this initiative will see them through to, at least, graduation.
“This is progress for us, but it’s not the end of it all. There’s still a little bit more fighting we have to do,” said Toohill.
For more information, you can reach out to Brandon’s Forever Home or Representitive Toohil’s office.