Mentors Help Former Foster Youths Realize Dreams

March 31, 2009 / UC Davis News and Information

Foster care was a rough experience for Marita Grant, and at one time her future looked bleak. She saw her peers from foster care living on the streets and doing drugs. Everyone dismissed her dream of a college education.

But today, the junior is thriving at UC Davis with the help of a program that offers support to former foster youths. The Guardian Scholars Program, now in its second year at UC Davis, is providing about 45 students with practical help, a social network and individual mentoring.

"It's definitely the rock I've been standing on since I got here," said Grant, who is studying political science with a minor in psychology.

UC Davis is among 30 campuses across the country to offer the Guardian Scholars Program in what is a growing effort to make higher education more attainable for former foster youths.

Only about 2 percent of young people from foster care obtained bachelor's degrees, compared with 24 percent of adults in the general population, according to research by the Seattle-based Casey Family Programs foundation.

At UC Davis, major funding for the program includes a $12,500 planning grant from the Walter S. Johnson Foundation and a $55,000 matching grant in each of three years from the Stuart Foundation.

Born in Sierra Leone, Grant came to the United States at age 12, entered foster care at 14 and bounced among several foster and group homes in California. She used a California Chafee Grant to study for two years at CSU-Los Angeles and transferred to UC Davis in September.

Brandy Jenkins of Fairfield, a second-generation foster child, is also a Guardian Scholar. She entered the foster system at age 11 and dropped out of high school by ninth grade.

Jenkins completed high school and, as a mother of four, worked full time while earning an Associate of Arts at Napa Valley Community College. The 28-year-old transferred to UC Davis last fall.

For Jenkins, the program's mentoring relationship is "an extremely powerful experience."

The sociology major and Diane Wolf, a professor of sociology and director of the Jewish Studies Program, meet weekly and communicate frequently by telephone and e-mail.

"Coming from being a former foster youth, I gave up on myself because no one expected anything of me," Jenkins said. "Diane expects me to do my best, and -- with her expectation -- my best keeps getting better."

Wolf is one of 32 faculty and staff volunteers who serve as mentors. The program, which has a staff and a peer adviser, also helps scholars navigate the campus and connect with other resources.

Both Grant and Jenkins plan to attend law school on their way to helping and motivating other foster youth.


Return On Investment

UC Davis is among 30 campuses across the country to offer the Guardian Scholars Program in what is a growing effort to make higher education more attainable for former foster youths.

Several states have introduced legislation to extend foster care benefits (including tuition grants) until the age of 21 rather than dumping our children on the streets at the age of 18.  Pennsylvania is one of them.  Sadly, the bill was tabled due in most part to the current economic recession.  We're hoping to get this bill out of committee and reintroduced in the next legislative session.  The representative in my district will be co-sponsoring this bill.

It may be more expensive on the short term, but I can't think of a better return on my tax dollar than to fund this program.  I wonder what it costs per year to educate incarcerate former foster children?


Short and long response

I'm not sure if the following link relates well to your question, but the article Prevention Pays:  The Cost of Not Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect does offer cost-benefit /cost-failure study samples from New York, Michigan, Colorado, and your own home-state, Pennsylvania (which btw...means you and I are neighbors!)  

Meanwhile, being the nerdy nerd that I am, I have to admit, a couple of years ago, I did review various DOC websites, just to see how much is being spent each year on inmates. I was surprised to see how many state prisons do not post that cost-information so it can be easily seen and read by the "average viewer".  For instance, if you go to the NJ DOC web page, you will find all sorts of links with all sorts of information, but even if you go to a specific prison-page, like,, you will not see how much money is being spent on each inmate, each year.  [I featured the Edna Mahan Correction Facility because it features a Prison Pup Program.... a program I really like for those who have been neglected and abused.]  Instead, readers have to go to the Mission Statement page, or find the little notice that reads:  Annual Report, where the curious reader, who has all sorts of free-time to waste, can read the most recent published annual report, which includes, in this case, the 2007 budget, which can be found here:  Good luck weeding reading through it.

Compare that to the Pennsylvania DOC pages, where you find key words like Statistics and Research, and find there's a link for Budget Documents which has all sorts of things to read, like PA's most recent budget report, which you can find here: 

[Amazing, isn't it?]

Of course, for those who don't like to visit DOC pages, only to see outdated budget reports, there is always a plethora of study reports made by the fine folks at  Pew Charitable Trusts.

OR, you can be like me and ask Niels to help find/locate the information/links you want or need.  [True, it might take him much longer to get back with a final answer, but his findings are usually much more direct and complete, making his researched results look much more impressive  (FAR less wordy) than my own.]

Pound Pup Legacy