Wallace grew up in Campbell River and spent most of her life, since age 3, in foster care with her sister. She lived in seven different foster homes, and she was aware of what she calls “the big scary:” that at the age of 19, she would age out of care.
“You sometimes hear about other children turning 19 and becoming homeless,” explained Wallace. “I was turning 19 in December; I wanted to find a place to live before I might get kicked out.”
At 18, she moved in with two friends and started working in retail to pay her bills. She ended up working three different retail positions but still not being able to pay her rent at times. In her current full-time job, she does a lot of warehousing, which includes heavy lifting. She has started to find the work hard on her body.
“I feel like I’m falling apart because I’m working on concrete floors all day, moving heavy boxes regularly,” said Wallace. “I had an idea of going into administration because I think it will be a lot less physical, and with some training, I can go and work in an office anywhere.”
In May 2022, she met with Brooke McIntosh, who supports and advises students about financial aid and academic programs at NIC. Through discussion with McIntosh, she decided on the Office Assistant 1 certificate. “I hadn’t even known about the funding before I met with Brooke. As a foster kid, you don’t exactly Google ‘opportunities for aged-out foster kids,’” she said. “Brooke explained to me how the funding was meant to be accessed by the age of 26 and even though I was 28, I should still try to access the funding.”
Wallace submitted the application with help from McIntosh. She also applied for funding support from the We Wai Kai Nation, of which she is a member, and the North Vancouver Island Aboriginal Training Society. In July, she was denied former youth in care funding for being overage.
McIntosh stuck with Wallace every step of the way, until Wallace successfully appealed and received provincial funding.
“Everything helps. I’ve had to increase my work hours to afford the increased cost of living. My rent doubled in the past two years because I had to move out of an apartment that I had rented for the last 10 years,” said Wallace. “Then, I had to reduce my work hours so that I could take courses at NIC, so the funding really matters for me.”
In March, the BC Government lifted the Provincial Tuition Waiver Program age restrictions for former youth in care, increasing access to post-secondary education for students across BC and making tuition, textbooks, internet costs and computers more affordable. Expanding the Provincial Tuition Waver Program to all former youth in care, regardless of age, is part the StrongerBC: Future Ready Action Plan, a cross-government plan focused on making education and training more accessible, affordable, and relevant to help people prepare for the jobs of today and tomorrow. The expansion of the tuition waiver program is supported by a provincial investment of $19.2 million over three years.
“Removing the age restriction for the Provincial Tuition Waiver Program for former youth in care reduces barriers to post-secondary education and skills training, helping people like Karla prepare for good-paying jobs in their career pathways of choice,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Post Secondary and Future Skills. “As part of our Future Ready Action Plan, we want to make sure that people who have faced barriers have the resources they need to access education and go on to find a meaningful and good-paying career that sets them up for life-long success.”
“We are so excited to see Karla and former youth in care access this funding. The recent changes will allow people to access education when the time is right,” said McIntosh. “Lifting the age restriction for students who have been in care is critical to accessing post-secondary education.”
Both McIntosh and Wallace hope the changes help more former youth in care know about their options for education and training. “I hope others will learn about the funding and access it earlier. The longer you’re away from schooling, the harder it is to start learning in a classroom again,” said Wallace. “I hope other youth can also remember that as much as you might fight with your social worker, the Ministry or your foster parents, they’re actually trying to help you. The older I get, the more incredibly grateful I am for people who care.”
Wallace will be ready to start her new office administration career when she graduates in May 2024.
Learn more about funding for Former Youth in Care. NIC financial aid advisors are also available to help answer questions about this and other financial support questions.