Children & Families of Iowa's Elevate, a program designed for and run by youth in foster care, will receive its first national award next month. The North American Council on Adoptable Children grants the Adoption Activist Award for "outstanding regional efforts to achieve permanence for children in the child welfare system." The council awards up to five each year, and Senator Chuck Grassley is also among this year's award recipients.
The majority of youth who reach adulthood while in foster care do not get the chance to develop critical life skills -- skills that enable others their age to succeed. These teens have had to focus on surviving, rather than thriving, without consistent role models to demonstrate financial management, job preparedness or basics of personal health. According to the Iowa Department of Human Services, less than half of those who "age out" will graduate from high school within four years of release from care. By this same four-year mark, fewer than 20 percent will be able to support themselves financially.
In light of these alarming odds, Children & Families of Iowa and the Department of Human Services began Elevate in 2005. The program's mission is to transition foster youth into independent adults and self-advocates who can successfully educate others about the child welfare system.
Diane Jenkins, the Cherokee chapter facilitator, observes the organization's impact firsthand: "I truly believe in Elevate, as I see many of the members going from being a victim to a survivor. They have changed people's minds and attitudes on teen foster children. They are my heroes."
Program Director Ruth Phillips explains that "by speaking out and sharing who they are, these youth are decreasing the fear associated with adopting teenagers. People start to think, 'I could live with that kid.'"
Elevate also improves foster children's lives by helping pass legislation to reform the child welfare system. At the recommendation of Elevate, the "Sibling Bill" was passed in 2007, providing separated siblings in foster care the opportunity to visit one another on a regular basis.
Diane Jenkins recalls, "We were sitting in the gallery watching the bill be passed. Many of the kids were in tears when it passed unanimouslyÖThis is when I felt that I would be in Elevate for the long haul."
Elevate's efforts will be recognized on August 15, when six youth will travel to the annual NACAC conference in Columbus, Ohio to receive their award. Meetings are held the fourth Monday of every month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. To get involved or arrange for Elevate to speak at your next meeting, contact Chapter Facilitator Diane Jenkins at HYPERLINK "mailto:email@example.com" firstname.lastname@example.org.
Children & Families of Iowa is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring hope, building futures and changing lives. Offices in Fort Dodge, Des Moines, Ankeny, Osceola and Centerville allow the organization to restore hope for victims of domestic violence, create safe homes for children and help people reshape their lives statewide.