Approaches to better understanding student identities during National Foster Care Month

Published: May 31, 2023

A professor sits on a table in a classroom, having a lively conversation with several students.According to the Children’s Bureau, National Foster Care Month was established to shed light on foster care and to celebrate those who are dedicated to serving children, youth, and families. There are currently more than 391,000 youth and children in foster care in the United States. This month also celebrates the many foster parents that have opened their homes. In all of this celebration, there is still plenty of work left to ensure foster youth have an equal opportunity in college. 

For instance, finding and maintaining a stable support system is an important factor in the success of former foster youth in college. In this 2016 study, the authors suggest that higher education institutions have room for improvement in supporting students that have experienced the foster care system.

Understanding Student Identities

The Advising Success Network and NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education created (Mis)Understanding Students to offer research, resources, and questions for institutional leaders that desire to better understand students’ identities. Those identities may include race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, social class, first-generation status, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, immigration status, veteran status, and involvement with the carceral system.

Faculty, staff, administrators, student services professionals, policymakers, campus leaders, researchers, and students will find information about the student identities listed to better understand the diverse perspectives.

Consult the “Socioeconomic Status and Social Class” section of this resource when considering former foster youth in college. As an example, the socioeconomic status of former foster care students may be unknown due to household income being entirely accounted for by their caregivers’ demographic characteristics, according to the Current Population Survey and the new Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). (Mis)Understanding Students gives institutions insight into how to prepare for and communicate with a variety of children in foster care or former foster youth.

Implementing the Insights

Within the Socioeconomic Status and Social Class section, there are common suggestions made for institutions (page 13-26):

  • Understand that a student’s socioeconomic status is an incomplete measure of social class.
  • Make the timing of office hours or socialization opportunities flexible.
  • Avoid correcting a college student’s grammar, accent, or dialect.
  • Create an institutional fund to pay for voluntary student leadership opportunities.
  • Understand that technology ownership and online access vary among students.

(Mis)Understanding Students: Approaches to Affirming Student Identities could be beneficial to institutions, but more importantly to students, and particularly former foster youth in college, to set the tone of comfortability and potential for everyone.

The ASN is interested in your journey in affirming student identities. What are you doing to support students from underrepresented backgrounds such as foster care youth?

Tell us about what you’re doing at your institutions by engaging with us through our social media accounts such as LinkedIn (Advising Success Network (ASN)) and Twitter (@Advising360).

Sydnee Singletary (she/her/hers) authored this blog during her spring 2023 internship with the Advising Success Network. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Multiplatform Journalism with a concentration in African American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.