TORONTO - Aisha Aberdeen wasn't born on third base, and she doesn't imagine she hit a triple. But as the school year starts, the former foster child is ready to trot home.
Aberdeen has done what almost no kid who has been through foster care ever does. She's graduated from the University of Toronto with a double major in forest conservation and Caribbean studies. Now she's planning graduate studies in the forests of Kenya this year.
Fewer than 44 per cent of children who wind up in foster care complete high school before they're 21. Only 20 per cent of those (8.8 per cent of the total) go on to any form of post-secondary education.
In the general population, 75 per cent of Ontario kids graduate from high school and 40 per cent continue their education past high school.
How did the 27-year-old mother manage to be the exception?
"I can't say this is about anything but God," Aberdeen said. "There's a tendency for many of us in care to get forgotten."
The forgetting extends to government policy, said Nathan Gilbert, executive director of the Laidlaw Foundation.
Three years ago, the federal government made matching grants - the Canada Learning Bond - available to families who are saving up for their children's education. Nobody seems to have considered what happens to children who don't have parents capable of opening a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) to qualify for the government grants, said Gilbert.
"These are the kids who end up in persistent poverty," said Gilbert.
It would cost about $8 million per year for the federal government to set up RESPs for the 18,000 Ontario children in foster care, says the Laidlaw Foundation report Not So Easy to Navigate.
The Laidlaw Foundation funds youth programs in the neighbourhoods people avoid after nightfall and advocates for youth with governments. Making the Canada Learning Bond available to foster children and making sure the kids all have RESPs backing them up would do more than provide foster children with a little bit of money for education when they age-out of care at 18, said Gilbert.
"It's about building aspirations, maybe even expectations," he said.
Touted as a way to even the educational playing field for poor families when it was started in 2007, the Canada Learning Bond actually seems to be doing a better job of helping the middle class. In 2008 only 16 per cent of low-income families had taken advantage of the program.
Aberdeen dropped out of high school at 16, after a year in foster care. She then lived on her own through a succession of dead-end jobs and her fair share of trouble until she turned 21. She knows she could have fallen into the statistical norm of foster kids who fail to get an education and then fail to ever extricate themselves from poverty.
"Between 16 and 21 you can really lose your life - all sense of direction."
Aberdeen knows she had to fight against expectations most people had for her - a black kid with a thick Trinidadian accent who came from a neighbourhood too much in the news. At 21, she enrolled in the University of Toronto's advanced placement program for adult students who never finished high school.
She got through that and into her first year of university before she was pregnant and diagnosed with lupus. Through that difficult pregnancy, she kept going to class. Now her three-year-old daughter Kenya is her inspiration to do even more.
The Hope For Children Foundation handed out more than $200,000 in scholarships to more than 100 former Catholic Children's Aid Society kids at its annual dinner for graduating students Aug. 25 at the University of Toronto.