WMU efforts for former foster youth earn national recognition

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Photo of WMU graduates in caps and gowns.

Seita Scholars and staff members with at the April 2013 commencement. Photo courtesy of the Seita Scholars program.

KALAMAZOO—Western Michigan University efforts to serve and understand the higher education needs of former foster care youth have been singled out for national recognition by a leading social policy organization.

A Jan. 15 announcement in Washington, D.C., by the Center for the Study of Social Policy—CSSP—named WMU's Center for Fostering Success as one of 15 programs around the nation that are making a critical difference in the lives of foster care youth. The 15 programs were selected from among more than 130 nominees, and they were chosen after a rigorous review that included a detailed written application, extensive site visits and interviews with youth, families and staff.

WMU's Center for Fostering Success includes

  • The acclaimed Seita Scholars program that was founded in 2008 and offers college access and support for some 160 students from foster care annually,
  • Fostering Success Michigan, a statewide network that is dedicated to making connections with people who are working to improve educational and career outcomes for Michigan's students from foster care between the ages of 12 and 25, and
  • A research and evaluation component charged with understanding the challenges and solutions related to foster youth and higher education.

Ability to influence public policy

The entire center, according to the CSSP announcement, was recognized for its commitment to "building qualities that help youth--particularly those in the child welfare system--mitigate or eliminate risk and promote healthy development and well-being."

"This national recognition is enormously gratifying," says Dr. Yvonne Unrau, director of the WMU center, "but the real reward for our Fostering Success team over the past six years has been watching young people succeed and being able to learn from them about how we can better support students and make higher education a more vibrant and welcoming place for students from foster care."

The programs recognized by the CSSP, the organization says, were chosen because they will provide the child welfare field with on-the-ground examples of policies and training that will influence public policy change across the country. The programs also represent a framework of five research-informed factors that the organization calls Youth Thrive. They are youth resilience, social connections and concrete support in time of need, knowledge of adolescent development, and cognitive and social-emotional competence in youth.

"These 15 programs represent organizations and agencies that are achieving outcomes that are truly improving the well-being of very vulnerable youth," says Susan Notkin, CSSP associate director. "They share a deep understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities adolescents face, the impact of trauma they have experienced and the commitment needed to stick with them, no matter what."

About the Center for the Study of Social Policy

The Center for the Study of Social Policy is a national, nonprofit organization recognized for its leadership in shaping policy, reforming public systems and building the capacity of communities. For more than 30 years, CSSP has influenced and supported elected officials, public administrators, families and neighborhood residents to take the actions they need. Based in Washington, D.C., CSSP translates research and new ideas into strategies for on-the-ground implementation. They use the knowledge from those experiences to better inform the next generation of ideas, programs and policies. CSSP’s goal is to make sure low income children can learn, develop and thrive with the support of strong families, in safe and healthy communities.

Visit cssp.org to see the complete text of the Jan. 15 announcement.

For more information about WMU's Center for Fostering Success, contact Dr. Yvonne Unrau, director of the center, at yvonne.unrau@wmich.edu or (269) 929-0613.