About 5000 children and teenagers are currently in Iowa’s foster care system.
“When youth enter the child welfare system, their lives are in crisis,” says Jacob Carmi, a former foster care kid. “Most are very scared.”
Carmi is now a leader in a group called AMP, which stands for Achieving Maximum Potential. AMP helps teenagers who are soon to reach the age of 18 and be kicked out of the foster care system.
“AMP has been very successful in changing several policies and procedures to improve foster care and adoption,” he says. “We began with PAL — Preparation for Adult Living — which supports youth after they leave the foster care system with a stipend that can be used on housing and basic needs as they go out on their own. Next was the law that stated siblings need to be placed together.”
The group also lobbied for the current state policy that provides government-paid Medicaid health insurance to former foster care kids until they reach they turn 26. It’s meant to mirror the new federal law that allows parents to keep children on their own health insurance plans ’til the kids reach the age of 26. AMP has new priorities it hopes state legislators will address in 2015, to help kids who are still in foster care.
“Creating legislation that would give foster care parents the right to sign certain documents for school, sports, camp, medical, dental, etc., so we don’t have to miss an activity or appointment because we’re waiting on a signature from the department,” he says.
That would be the Iowa Department of Human Services, which manages the state’s foster care program. In addition, the group wants legislators to provide more money for emergency housing for the kids entering the child welfare system who’ve been diagnosed with serious mental health issues.
“Most shelters are not staffed to handle extreme cases and it puts all youth in shelter at risk,” he says.
Kids in the foster care system or who’ve been adopted can join AMP, starting at the age of 13. The group has chapters in 13 different cities and its website stresses that AMP helps foster kids develop the skills that will lead them to be “healthy, independent adults.”