Rowan University reports that 2.7 million children in the U.S. have a parent who is incarcerated and approximately 10 million have experienced parental incarceration at some point in their lives.
With expansive numbers like these, it is imperative that the ASU community listens to the needs of these young adults. ASU needs to add more options by increasing specific scholarships for those with incarcerated parents.
Many students facing parental incarceration have greater numbers of "adverse childhood experiences," also referred to as ACEs, a term used within juvenile justice studies dealing with abuse, neglect and being in foster care. The Arizona Department of Childhood Safety reports that close to 14,000 children in Arizona are in foster care, a common experience with students who are affected by parental incarceration.
This past summer, I spent every Wednesday at a juvenile correctional facility for a research project for youth with incarcerated parents. It became apparent that there is a concerning lack of educational resources for these young adults. Many of them are already at a disadvantage by being in the foster care system and coming from unconventional households.
Receiving higher education should not be on their list of worries.
Under ASU's scholarship search, there are currently no scholarships offered to students facing parental incarceration. One of the few options students have is to file as an independent on their FAFSA, but this option is limited as it is only available to students who can provide documentation proving both parents are absent.
This stipulation creates an unnecessary barrier for students seeking higher education while facing parental incarceration.
Jordan Maldonado, an Arizona resident who has incarcerated parents, spoke about the obstacles she faced when considering ASU as a place to attend. She said that the financial barriers of having an incarcerated parent, "(were) one of the biggest reasons that contributed to (her) not going to college."
Maldonado said that FAFSA was the only resource she could find to help her afford schooling, which was simply not enough. She argued that programs specifically designed for students facing parental incarceration could have not only aided her in attending school but motivated her to do better in school in general.
"It would have definitely motivated me to do better in college because I would have known it wasn't just me," Maldonado said. "I would have had to uphold (certain standards) since I would be receiving help or rewards."
Many students who do go on to receive higher education are incredibly motivated individuals, supporting Maldonado’s testimony. Rowan University reports that a variety of students affected by parental incarceration described school as a safe place or "escape," while others describe their hardships as motivating factors for success.
Currently, ASU's only programs for youth in foster care, the Arizona Foster Youth Award and the Arizona Education and Training Voucher, are extremely limited. The eligibility requirements for the Arizona Foster Youth Award hinder a lot of possible recipients, with strict age guidelines for when someone would have had to be in the system along with requiring applicants to be Arizona residents. Many children in juvenile correctional centers are moved around quite a bit and are not necessarily Arizona residents even after being placed in the state.
In addition to this, the Arizona Foster Youth Award only covers tuition, leaving students to wonder how they will cover the cost of food, housing, transportation and educational supplies.
The Arizona Education and Training Voucher, focused on assisting those who have aged out of the foster care system, only awards $2,500 per semester, leaving a significant amount of expenses unaccounted for.
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Principle Research Specialist Heather Griller Clark advocates for ASU to expand scholarship resources for the students in this community.
"We know that education is a protective factor that strengthens well-being and helps mitigate risks associated with having an incarcerated parent, so the more opportunities a child has to receive educational funding or scholarships, the more likely that child is to succeed," Griller Clark said.
While ASU holds the annual Children of Incarcerated Parents National Conference which aims to "further awareness of the impact of incarceration on children," there still is a concerning lack of resources for the children affected by parental incarceration and other ACEs.
With growing incarceration numbers, and given that nearly half of those incarcerated in state prisons are parents of minors, scholarship expansions for affected youth could significantly improve their situation.
ASU should consider supporting young adults in adverse situations by increasing specific scholarships for those with incarcerated parents.
Edited by Sadie Buggle, David Rodish, Sophia Balasubramanian and Kristen Apolline Castillo.
Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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