Posted on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

By Caitlin Beckner, marketing specialist, VFCCE

Kids in foster care often age out of the system without a permanent home, but the VCCS Great Expectations program helps them find support.

Growing up in a foster home, kids and teenagers are used to being given directions: where they’ll be living, what school they’ll be going to, what family they’ll be staying with.

Then, suddenly they reach age 18, and much of that support system is gone.

According to a 2016 survey by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 19 percent of kids in foster care in Virginia aged out of the system without finding a permanent home or being reunited with their birth parents, the second-highest rate in the nation. State data shows that youths aged 16 to 18 made up 25 percent of all kids in foster care within the state, compared to 16 percent for the nation as a whole.

Since younger children are adopted at higher rates than teenagers, those higher rates mean that many foster youth will age out of the system without the stability of a family, a home, or a plan for the future.

But some foster program participants are discovering new opportunities, thanks to the Great Expectations program, a major initiative of Virginia’s Community Colleges made possible through funding from the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education.

Now in its 11th year, Great Expectations employs coaches at community colleges throughout the state. Students enrolled in the program are paired with these coaches for guidance through career counseling, help with college applications, and connections to resources that cover expenses like transportation and childcare.

Kaili Landis (L.) and Whitney Scruggs

For 18-year-old Kaili Landis, Great Expectations helped lay the groundwork for her success when pursuing her degree.

“Great Expectations helped me feel like I am actually seen,” Landis. “I connect well with my advisor and can make an appointment when something is stressing me out or impacting my school work.”

Landis is one of 56 students to graduate from the Great Expectations program this spring, as well as a student leader. Growing up in Stephens City, Virginia, she entered foster care at the age of 10. This spring, she graduated from Lord Fairfax Community College with an associate degree in Human Services.

Now, Landis is using her experience to give back to the Great Expectations program. Through her student leader project, she has been working to expand the mentorship component of the program, and encouraging other former foster youths to become mentors, particularly those who have wanted to become foster parents themselves, but worry that they don’t have the time or the resources to do so.

“You can’t mentor and make a difference unless you can tell the kids your personal experiences. I wouldn’t listen to someone who hasn’t gone through something similar,” said Landis, who plans to attend Liberty University in the fall to study social work. “You need someone who can relate on a personal level. We don’t need people just building us up.”

Whitney Scruggs has been Kaili’s Great Expectations advisor since she began her position last semester. She has seen Kaili mature and is confident in her path going forward.

“Kaili is a very dedicated and driven student. When she hits a challenge, she looks for a way to overcome the challenge and be successful. She really has a heart for wanting to make a difference for those faced with a similar situation to what she experienced,” said Whitney.'

Virginia's Community Colleges

Created more than 50 years ago, the VCCS is comprised of 23 community colleges located on 40 campuses across the commonwealth. Together, Virginia’s Community Colleges serve more than 270,000 students a year in credit and workforce courses.

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