New college students often experience self-doubt. For students in the child welfare system, that uncertainty can be particularly debilitating and self-defeating, according to Chris Marinelli Scott ’17, a university assistant for Central’s Academic, Readiness & Engagement Scholars (CARE) program.
“The first year in college is difficult for everyone, especially someone who’s grown up in a non-traditional background,” Scott explains. “Nationally, only three percent of students in the child welfare system will graduate from college.”
Scott can relate. He was placed in foster care when he was 9 years old and was adopted just before his 14th birthday.
“I can truly say my heart and soul is in this CARE Scholars program,” he notes.
Through his work with CARE Scholars, which provides students from the state foster care and adoption system with resources to support their academic endeavors at CCSU, Scott is working to boost student success within this vulnerable group. From experience, he knows it is possible, despite the challenges these students encounter.
As a high school student, Scott says he got involved with drugs and his grades suffered. When he applied to CCSU for the first time, he was not accepted.
“Fortunately I met some incredible people,” he says. With their support, Scott went to Tunxis Community College for several semesters and turned things around. Not only did he graduate from CCSU in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Linguistics, he also immersed himself in the college experience, serving as a reporter and editor for The Recorder and as a student senator. He even testified at the State Capitol on behalf of the foster care system.
Around the same time Scott was completing his capstone project, “Post-Secondary Outcomes in Foster and Adopted Youth,” he met Assistant Director of Admissions Carlos Soler, who was looking to put together a program for foster youth.
“The universe threw us together,” says Scott.
Soon thereafter, Scott and Soler teamed up to create what would become CARE Scholars.
“He [Soler] wrote up a framework and mission statement, we both revised it, and we started building and structuring the program from there,” he says.
The university hired Scott as one of CARE Scholars’ first staff members just a few months after he graduated. Scott has since acquired a two-year residential teaching certification through Teach For America and Johns Hopkins University and has taught in the Hartford public schools. He is currently pursuing a master’s in Counseling at CCSU.
“It’s great to be a part of the community I grew up in and seeing success in students who society typically doesn’t believe will succeed,” Scott says.
This summer, Scott will build upon what he’s learned as one of 12 selected participants in the 2019 Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute in Washington, D.C. During the two-month program, Scott will work with his peers to craft a policy report on foster care and adoption to present to Congress.
Students in the system
In the state of Connecticut, students in foster care with a high school diploma or GED can receive tuition assistance as long as they maintain a 2.0 grade point average.
Scott notes, “There’s more to a student’s success than just being able to pay for tuition. A lot of these 18-year-olds don’t have a support system. … We help students navigate the bureaucracy and become independent and self-sufficient.”
CARE Scholars is the only program of its kind in the CSCU system. When it launched in August 2017, program staff mentored 56 students. That number grew to 90 students this year.
“We’re really the flagship for this kind of program,” Scott says. “Everyone who works in the program has been through the child welfare system. I definitely anticipate growth. We’re recruiting at group homes, DCF, reaching out to social workers in schools. We’re hoping to grow in terms of funding because we’re going absorb the need.”
Alan Abutin ’22 was in the foster care system until he was adopted at age 4. A Communications major, Abutin learned about the CARE Scholars program through his mom.
“I didn’t join until mid-semester because I thought it was just more social services. As a kid who grew up with that stuff you want to be done with that whole environment, it can be downgrading at times,” Abutin says. “CARE was more a welcoming family.”
As a child of the foster care system, Scott himself has provided useful perspective to Abudin.
“He told me that you’re given a hand of cards in life,” Abutin says. “We have certain cards as adopted kids. Other people were given easier cards.”
Abutin sees Scott as someone who has already won the game.
“He had a good career, a job as a teacher, but he didn’t want to win that way. He wanted to win the way his heart told him to win. He put his heart behind the CARE program.”
Learn more about CARE Scholars at www.carescholars.com.