Geoff Gratwick, Seth Berry Honored as Friends of Youth in Care
Senator Geoff Gratwick and House Majority Leader Seth Berry are this year’s recipients of the Friend of Youth in Care Award.
Maine’s Youth Leadership Advisory Team is recognizing the lawmakers for their work on a first-in-the-nation law that will allow former foster children to receive guidance and financial help with higher education expenses until their 27th birthdays.
Democratic Representative Berry of Bowdoinham sponsored PL 577, An Act To Improve Degree and Career Attainment for Former Foster Children. Democratic Senator Gratwick of Bangor was the lead co-sponsor.
“I’m proud that Maine is leading on this issue. Helping these young Mainers complete their education makes sense, both morally and economically,” Berry said. “Even with the best of childhoods, how many of us were fully independent at age 20? How many of us would cut off our own kids once they turn 20?”
Until now, Maine provided no support or guidance beyond age 20. The new law leverages one private foundation dollar for every two public dollars and would support up to 40 young Mainers at a given time. The average per student higher education expenses are estimated to average $5,000 a year.
“The needs of students aging out of foster care are urgent and ongoing,” said Senator Gratwick. “Those who have overcome tremendous adversity and gone on to college should be supported and encouraged as they work towards their education, strive to build successful lives, and use their talents to help build a better future for Maine.”
Youth in care often have multiple foster care placements that contribute to gaps in their educations. It is not unusual for youth in care to start college after age 18, and only 2 percent go on to receive a four-year degree.
Young people transitioning out of foster care are at significantly higher risk of unemployment, homelessness, poor educational outcomes and long-term dependency on public assistance. A University of Chicago study finds that between 12 and 36 percent of young people transitioning out of foster care experience homelessness.
A recent Pew Research Center report finds that the earnings gap between those with college degrees and those without is growing. Millennial college graduates between the ages of 25 and 32 make an average of $17,500 more than their peers who have only a high school diploma. They are also more likely to be employed full-time and less likely to be unemployed.
Private foundations convened by the Muskie School for Public Services will fund the entire cost of guidance, or one-third of the total projected costs.
Each year, youth from across Maine choose a caring adult or group who has exhibited leadership on behalf of youth in foster care statewide to receive the award. The recipient must make a commitment to all youth in care, advocate for youth in care statewide, be a leader on behalf of all youth in care and be a positive role model for youth in care.