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March 2005Vol. 6, No. 2Education and Training Vouchers: The First Year

A new source of financial help for youth aging out of foster care was created in February 2003 when over 41 million Federal dollars were designated for Education and Training Vouchers (ETVs) as part of the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. States were first able to access these funds in 2004 to provide up to $5,000 per student to former foster youth enrolled in accredited colleges, universities, or other training programs. The flexibility of the funding allowed States to develop a variety of strategies to publicize and administer their ETV programs.

With the program still in its early stages, the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Youth Development (NRCYD) undertook a study to determine how States were implementing their ETV programs for eligible youth and what strategies appeared to be working. The NRCYD conducted web-based surveys with State Independent Living Coordinators and held discussion groups at a national conference. Results of the study focus on how States carried out the outreach, application, implementation, and collaboration components of the voucher program. The NRCYD study found that:

  • States employed a variety of outreach methods to inform eligible youth about the program. These included websites, brochures, and mass mailings, although direct-care staff appeared to be the most effective way to inform youth about ETVs.
  • All students were required to complete an application process to access ETVs. Many States required a written educational plan, and some required interviews and/or letters of recommendation.
  • States developed guidelines and procedures regarding implementation of the ETV program. These involved decisions such as whether institutions or students would receive checks, what the vouchers could be used for, and what would determine "successful progress" in education for youth who wished to continue receiving vouchers.
  • States developed a number of collaborative relationships to further the educational achievements of youth. Many States worked with the financial aid departments at postsecondary institutions where eligible youth were enrolled; a number worked with private-sector initiatives such as the Orphan Foundation of America and Casey Family Programs. Several States matched youth with mentors or established mentoring programs.

The study suggests that, in order to be most effective, States' ETV programs should adhere to four core principles: youth development, collaboration, cultural competence, and permanent connections. Thus, successful voucher programs for youth aging out of foster care will involve youth in all phases of the program, promote community and interagency collaboration, strive to be culturally competent, and assist youth in developing lifelong permanent connections.

This study, Educating Youth in Care: The First Year of Education and Training Vouchers, was prepared by the University of Oklahoma, NRCYD, through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Children's Bureau. The full report can be found on the NRCYD website at (PDF - 806 KB).