In 2007, over 500 young people “aged out” of Foster Care in Iowa. What happens to them afterwards? National studies show that four years after leaving Foster Care, 25 percent of youth have become homeless, 46 percent have graduated high school, 42 percent have become parents and fewer than 20 percent are self-supporting.
Iowa Youth Dream Team wants to change those statistics, and some Northwestern students have decided to help them meet this goal.
The Iowa Youth Dream Team is a “youth-centered practice model that empowers youth to take control of their lives and dreams,” according to its brochure.
“We don’t focus on the negative. We focus on the youth,” said Julie Powell, coordinator of Iowa Youth Dream Team for Northwest Iowa.
Powell said that it is best for youth to start this process when they are about 16 years old. The process starts with an interview where the “dreamers,” or youth, tell about themselves and their goals in life. A “dream team” made up of adults and peers, chosen by the youth, is established.
The team then comes up with an action plan to make the youth’s dream a reality. “There are no silly dreams,” said Powell. “If the youth wants to be a rock star, we don’t tell him no. We look at his strengths and weaknesses. If he can’t sing, we find another way for him to still work with a rock band.”
“Youth in the foster system often do not have the social network that many youth rely on to get jobs or apply for school,” said Laura Elder, a senior Social Work major who participated in mentor training through Iowa Youth Dream Team. “This program lines the youth up with community members who can encourage them and form that social network.”
“I think it is about time that we begin to understand that these are real people having to deal with real life situations that often go unnoticed and need support,” said Chelsea Stromley, another senior Social Work major who participated in mentor training. “If we are able to contribute to someone’s life, even in the smallest way, why wouldn’t we? It’s time for us to start demonstrating the bigger Church.”
Iowa Youth Dream Team is always looking for additional mentors. If anyone is interested in learning more, they can contact Julie Powell at the Dept. of Human Services in Orange City.
“It is not just for social work majors,” said Powell. “This is a great opportunity for anyone.”