There are several questions on the FAFSA that students with experience in foster care will need to be considered "independent". When a student is considered "independent" they may qualify for specific financial resources.
Question #53 (in section 2) on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid asks: "At any time since you turned age 13, were both of your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?"If the answer is yes, the student will be considered "indpendent" and will then qualify for a number of financial resources.
Below are some common questions students and professionals may have about answering question #53.
Q: I am a ward of the court who graduated from high school and then went to live with my mother for two months. Did I lose my independent status?
A: A student is considered independent if he or she is a ward of the court, or was a ward of the court, at any time when the individual was age 13 or older. If your ward of the court status changed before you reached age 13, you may be considered dependent on your parent. You should talk about your situation with the financial aid administrator at your college who will help you determine your correct dependency status.
Q: I am a dependent child of the court of my county. Is this the same as a “ward” of the court?
A: The term “ward” is used to mean “dependent” of the court. You are a ward of the court (regardless of whether this status is determined by the county or state) if the court has assumed custody of you. You should have court ordered documents that designate you a ward of the court.
Q: I turned 18 and graduated, so my court case was closed. My college is saying I am no longer an independent student because I am no longer a ward of the court. Am I considered dependent or independent?
A: You are considered independent if you were a ward of the court, at any time, when you were age 13 or older. This means you should check “Yes” to Question #53, if you were a ward of the court when you were age 13 or older.
“How many people are in your household?”
Q: I live with my foster parents and their children. Are they my “family members?”
A: No. If you are considered independent (for example, because you are in foster care), and you have no dependent children of your own, you are a family of one (yourself).
Q: I have filled out this form as an independent student because I am a ward of the court. Do I need my father’s or mother’s signature? I do not live with them, but I see them sometimes.
A: No. Because of your status as a ward of the court, you are considered an independent student and a parental signature is not required.
Note that foster parents do not count as parents for financial aid purposes, and so foster children do not count as legal dependents even if they live with and receive more than half their support from the student or the student's parents. (In most cases the foster parent does not provide more than half support, as the state provides the support. Foster care payments are not reported on the FAFSA.) As a result, foster children do not make the student independent, nor are they counted in household size.