Only a few of the lobbying groups following state legislators back to Des Moines this month are likely to see their efforts pay off.
There are a lot of people in this state. A lot of interests, sometimes conflicting, clamoring for lawmakers’ time and attention. But I can’t think of a group’s legislative agenda more deserving of that attention than that of Iowa’s Foster Care Youth Councils.
These are kids who’ve personally been involved in the state child-protective system and who now represent their peers. Kids who know too well what it’s like to be an afterthought. To be left out or left behind. And they’re not asking for the moon here, no seven- or eight-figure incentives, no sweetheart deals.
They want state-funded emergency shelter beds close to home, so that at-risk youths have ready alternatives to homelessness and unsafe living conditions. So they can stay close to siblings, other family members and community ties.
They want resources so every foster child, every child at the Iowa Juvenile Home and the State Training School, and those who were adopted at age 16 or older, have help starting life on his or her own. Because without the help of services such as the Iowa Aftercare Services Network, Preparation for Adult Living Job Corps, too many young adults turned loose after being in the system falter when they should be learning to fly.
They want smoother transitions for kids whose out-of-home placements mean they have to change school districts. The ability to open enroll or get full credit for the classes they’ve taken. To participate in extracurricular activities and stay on track for graduation.
They want the state to give relatives an honest shot at taking care of their own family members who must be removed from their parents, and for those kin placements to have equal financial, medical and other supports as foster parents do, without having to jump through so many hoops. Because even though relative and kin placements are demonstrably better for kids than non-relative foster care placements, kin typically are eligible for less than half the financial assistance, placing undue hardship on families who take in their own.
And they want the state to do more to help victims of domestic human trafficking — kids in “the system” are often targets for traffickers — get their lives back on track after they’ve been derailed by their horrendous experiences with kidnapping, coercion and abuse.
These are modest requests well within legislators’ power and state budget restraints. These are considerations most Iowa kids take for granted. That Iowa’s foster and adopted kids would have to ask for them in the first place is more than a little shameful. Legislators should not make them ask again.
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