Program to reach out to foster kids


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When it comes time to leave a foster-care family, many children have difficulty adjusting to adult life.

Without a traditional support system, many are less likely to graduate from high school or successfully support themselves after leaving their homes.

But a new local program, still in the planning stage, promises to help kids ages 17 to 20 years old work to achieve their goals.

Johnson County Social Services is working to launch Transitioning Youth, a program that will pair children from the foster-care system with mentors to help them plan for the future, said Amy Correia, Johnson County Social Services coordinator. Officials hope the program will begin in the spring of 2010.

In 2007, more than 6,000 children were placed in around 2,500 foster homes, according to the State Data Center of Iowa.

Many children growing up in foster care may not enjoy the same informal social networks that other children naturally have, Correia said. Many kids don’t establish long-term relationships with their foster families, because they may have moved among homes.

Transitioning Youth will aim to establish these networks for those children nearing the end of their stay with a foster family.

The members of the “dream team” — made up of mentors or other adults in the child’s life — will help children move forward and can help break down large tasks into more manageable pieces, such as helping the youth with college or financial-aid applications, Correia said.

According to the state Department of Human Services, more than 25 percent of foster children across the country have been homeless at one time, and only 46 percent graduate from high school.

Jane Murphy, a member of the former community support group Iowa City Area Adoptive Families, said these statistics are alarming.

“Any parent would want their child to have the support system in place to make sure their kid isn’t going down the same road,” she said.

Only three counties in Iowa will receive serve as pilot sites and receive the $10,000 funding for the statewide program — and Johnson County isn’t one of them.

Still, Correia said, she aims for a low-cost, relatively informal program run largely by volunteers. She was unsure how much the program may cost.

Attaining state training for volunteers or county workers will pose the biggest challenge, she said.

This service is a small part of Iowa’s “progressive” foster-care programs, said Kelli Malone, a project manager for Iowa Kids Net — a statewide collaboration of six agencies responsible for recruiting, training, licensing and supporting Iowa’s foster and adoptive parents.

Depsite the number of forward-looking services, Malone said, foster-care program providers are never completely satisfied.

“Those of us who work in the system, we always feel like we need more assistance with foster children,” she said.

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