Posted on June 23, 2021 by Amanda Cerreto

This article originally appeared in UTSA Today by Valerie Bustamante.

JUNE 22, 2021 — With financial support from the 87th Texas State Legislature, the Bexar County Fostering Educational Success Pilot Project (BCFES) will further its mission to create a pathway to success in college for students with a history of foster care. This funding demonstrates the Legislature's continued support since the program's inception and the importance of seeing more Texas students succeed.

Foster youth grad "Continued funding affirms the pilot's transformational impact on youth in, and aging out of, the foster care system," said UTSA First Lady Peggy Eighmy , who has advocated for the project since its inception. "I am so very grateful to all of the members of the San Antonio delegation, most especially to Senator José Menéndez and Representative Ina Minjarez, for their continued belief and support in our mission. The delegation has truly taken these often-overlooked young people to heart and without their advocacy this critical work would not continue."

Started in 2019, the BCFES is a first-of-its kind UTSA-led collaboration with Texas A&M University-San Antonio, the Alamo Colleges District, the Bexar County Children's Court, Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA) and the Children's Shelter. Serving as a national model for student success, the pilot has developed programs and practices to guide students with a history of foster care—as young as middle school—toward successfully enrolling in and completing college. The program represents the first time a state legislature has made appropriations to support students with a history of foster care to reach their educational goals.

“It is a true privilege to support the Pilot Project, and I am proud of the progress it has already made in improving the lives of our foster youth,” State Sen. José Menéndez said. “I know the program will continue to grow and flourish, and that Bexar County will serve as a national model for how to best support young people with a history of foster care. Continuing to cultivate the talents of these resilient young adults is both the right thing to do, and a smart financial investment, as our community and our state stand to benefit from the success of our future workforce.”

“We often hear of the challenges faced by children in foster care and the lack of supportive programs, yet so many of these young people are resilient, self-reliant and are problem solvers—the very qualities that position young people well for success in college,” State Rep. Ina Minjarez said. “With support from programs like the Bexar County Fostering Educational Success Pilot Project, they see that college is possible and their future can be bright. I look forward to seeing what the program continues to do to help our foster youth.”

Over the course of nearly two years, BCFES has instituted numerous innovative practices and programs including The College Bound Docket, in partnership with the Bexar Country Children's Court, who received a national innovation award from National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

“Judges from all over the country are looking to Bexar County to replicate our unique program,” said Hon. Peter Sakai , Judge of the 225th District Court. “They want to understand how to truly partner with higher education, so the foster kids in their courtrooms know they can go to college and graduate and have the help they need to do so.”

The pilot has also leveraged the state's initial investment to attract more than $1.5 million through federal, state, and local philanthropic resources, including a $1.2 million award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to develop housing solutions for college students with a history of foster care who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Nearly 400 foster youth and alumni have received comprehensive support through the pilot project, including over 260 college students who received comprehensive services from the campus-based support programs established at UTSA, A&M-San Antonio and the Alamo Colleges District.

“Our work has just begun, and we are all up for the challenge,” said Airika Buford , project director. “Our students deserve equitable access to higher education and other supportive services to help achieve their overall goals. We at the Bexar County Fostering Educational Success Pilot Project are committed to doing so. We have crafted and implemented a strategic plan that will prioritize goals on a student (micro-), community (meso-), and system (macro-) level. In addition to the transformational programming and collective impact that we have seen in years one and two, we aim to sustain and strengthen our services by refining our policies and procedures and increasing outreach and awareness.”

Buford added that the program's “overall engagement is more intentional in our approach to achieve equity, and embrace inclusion” and is demonstrated in several projects such as the BCFES interactive resource map and the preliminary planning to expand services to crossover populations.

“Additionally, our CLIMB Summer Bootcamp, Fostering Career Readiness program, and the development of a leadership academy provide an opportunity for students to develop skills in policy advocacy, civic engagement, and the legislative process. These are strategic approaches where need and opportunity align,” Buford said. “Our strategic initiatives are indicative of BCFES' holistic approach that goes above and beyond the academic needs of our students by cultivating skill development and growth in all areas of life.”

For the last two years, UTSA has also been conducting research related to the pipeline of educational support for students with a history of foster care.

“In addition to examining the impact of programming, BCFES also provides a case study of effective cross-system collaboration to improve educational outcomes for students with a history of foster care,” said Megan Piel , the project's lead research evaluator. “We have seen early impact of the pilot project for students as well as in the broader community. I look forward to BCFES continuing to engage in translating research to inform practices and policies that support the educational success for youth and alumni of foster care in Texas and across the country.”

— Amanda Cerreto