Iowa is seeing a significant decline in the number of children in foster care, but there’s still concern about finding so-called “forever homes” for older children in the program. Carol Behrer , executive director of the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa, says the numbers have been steadily falling. “The last I saw it was around 5,500 children of all ages in foster care in the state,” Behrer says. “We’ve seen a decline in the number of foster care entries into the system going down over the last four or five years.”
The peak was around 7,500 children several years ago. Behrer attributes the drop to improvements made at the state level, improvements she says are working. “The numbers are dropping because of changes in how the child welfare system is approaching the issues,” Behrer says. “They’re really trying to keep more children at home, working with the families to keep the children safe but keep the families intact.”
She says the state’s trying to offer more services and return a child who’s been removed from a home more quickly. About one-quarter of all children in foster care in Iowa are 16- and 17-year-olds and she says they’re the most difficult children to place in foster care. “To be honest, these young people do have some serious problems,” Behrer says. “They have a lot of trauma in their lives and they have some behavior issues that are challenging for foster parents.”
Despite the difficulties, she says being a foster parent can be extremely rewarding. “Giving a young person a temporary home is so important,” Behrer says. “For older children in particular, having the security of a home is so beneficial to them, it just has to be rewarding for the foster parent.” She says young people who “age out” of the system at 18 face incredible hurdles, including higher rates of homelessness, higher rates of unemployment and early pregnancy.
Beher says Iowa has made much progress in helping those who age out of foster care with a voluntary program that provides support services up to age 21. She’s hopeful the state will eventually join the national extended foster care program, which would help leverage federal funds to provide additional help for those who age out. Learn more at the Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association website at: www.ifapa.org.