2022 Grants Challenge

Educational Support for Youth in Foster Care

Idea by First Star

The First Star UCLA Bruin Guardian Scholars Academy (BGSA) is a college-prep program for youth in foster care that keeps students on track for high school graduation and prepares them for successful transitions to higher education and adulthood. Over the past six years, on average, 99% of First Star scholars who complete the four-year Academy program graduate from high school, and 88% go on to post-secondary education. Grant funds would pay for peer mentors, many of whom are foster care alumni, and allow the program to serve more students.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Support for Foster and Systems-Impacted Youth

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

Our child welfare systems are not meeting the needs of older youth in foster care. When children are removed from homes, child welfare systems assume responsibility of keeping children safe, but few efforts are made to ensure all youth have the support needed to successfully transition to adulthood. Outcomes for youth leaving the foster care system are characterized by low academic achievement, chronic unemployment, homelessness and incarceration. Educationally, 30% function below grade level, and 46% fail to complete high school (compared to 16% of non foster youth). Within the first 2 to 4 years after aging out, 51% are unemployed, 46% will be incarcerated and 31% become homeless. There are over 440,000 youth in foster care in the United States. Los Angeles County is home to the largest population of youth in care in the nation. It is imperative that we come together for our Los Angeles youth in foster care to provide support, stability, and opportunity.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

The First Star Academies provide long term academic and permanency support services and include multiple residential opportunities on a university campus, aimed at increasing the educational outcomes for youth in foster care. Unlike any other program, the First Star Academies operate in partnership with universities, child welfare agencies, school districts and community partners to bring rising ninth grade foster youth to live on a university campus each summer throughout high school, and 1­-2 Saturdays per month during the four academic years. For Los Angeles youth in foster care enrolled in First Star UCLA Bruin Guardian Scholars Academy (BGSA) as incoming high school freshmen, BGSA transforms that 9th grade year by developing a university-bound mentality during a three-week summer residential immersion into university life. The summer immersion is followed by year-long activities that include academic and life skills classes, personalized monitoring, and support throughout the following four years. BGSA: a) Assists students in fulfilling requirements to gain admission to higher education b) Provides youth with skills and resources to successfully transition to higher education c) Engages adults who can provide long-term support to youth as they transition to adulthood d) Hosts annual community outreach events for youth, caregivers, and social workers e) Employs and supports former foster youth as peer mentors to model a college going mentality and open career pathways

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

BGSA works to create change in Los Angeles by building strong pathways for high school-age foster youth to post-secondary education and successful adult lives. Through our work, more youth in foster care in Los Angeles County will graduate high school and have the chance to attend higher education. While the focus of BGSA is on the enrolled youth, BGSA impacts the lives of many more. Foster care alumni and first-generation college students serve as peer mentors for the scholars. These students receive a salary and housing benefits during the summer program, and chances to enhance their leadership and mentoring skills. Caregivers, educational rights holders, and social workers are also provided opportunities to strengthen partnerships and learn support practices for the college admission process. In the one-year grant period, the funds, if awarded, will support the salaries, room and board of peer mentors during summer, and allow BGSA to grow from 45 students to 60 students.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

At First Star, over the past six years, on average, 99% of First Star Scholars who complete the four year Academy program graduate from high school, and 88% go on to post-secondary education. At a graduation rate of 94%, our BGSA scholars are exceeding the high school graduation rates of the general (non-foster care) population in California, which is at 87%. Approximately 26% of high school students in California enroll in four-year institutions. At a four-year college enrollment rate of 73%, the BGSA scholars are exceeding the four-year college enrollment rates of the general (non-foster care) population in California by nearly three times. This data speaks to BGSA’s success, as do the words of First Star graduates: “First Star made me more successful in school and helped me live out my dreams of going to college.” “First Star gives you another chance in a world that doesn't always seem forgiving, a chance to be seen and heard, and to change the world one step at a time.”

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 60

Indirect Impact: 400