One of the toughest things Kayla Daniels ever had to do was give up on her parents and focus on herself.
“My parents would get clean for a few months, I would go back with them, and they would relapse,” said Daniels, now 23, who said she spent most of her childhood in and out of foster care while her mother and father struggled with addictions to methamphetamine and other drugs.
When she was 14, Daniels, who lived in a small town near Santa Barbara, accepted that her parents might never change. She decided to remain in foster care, and she concentrated on working hard to finish high school and get into college.
The efforts paid off Saturday when she received her diploma from San Francisco State University.
“I made a lot of goals growing up, because it was my way to get out of it,” she said.
At SFSU, Daniels was a member of the Guardian Scholars Program for former foster children, which offers scholarships to young people who grew up in foster care and supports them socially and academically as they navigate college life.
“If it weren’t for them, it would have been extremely difficult to go to college,” Daniels said.
The program began in Southern California, but SFSU set up its chapter in 2005. This year the program graduated its largest class, with 11 students. Overall, 83 percent of the students who participate will graduate. Nationwide, only about 10 percent of former foster youth go to college, and just 3 percent graduate.
Xochitl V. Sanchez-Zarama, director and co-founder of the local program, said that before Guardian Scholars only one-third of former foster children made it past their freshman year.
“So many times you see the hard statistics,” she said. “They’re changing what it means to be a foster youth.”
Social worker Yolanda Perez, who helped Daniels with the transition from high school to college, said the Guardian Scholars Program was like family for students who didn’t have parents they could rely on.
“Youth who are in foster care, whether they’re in junior high, high school, college, they can’t share part of their lives with everyone,” Perez said.
Daniels, who plans to become a sex education teacher, is also working to set up a campus group that would connect Guardian Scholars with foster children in San Francisco.
“When you’re in foster care, you really don’t see a bright future,” she said. “But there is support out there. College, especially, is something that is so possible.”