CEDAR RAPIDS — Foundation 2, a local, nonprofit mental health and crisis intervention organization, announced Monday that it will expand services to include education support for young adults aging out of foster care and working with Linn County’s at-risk youth to prevent group violence.
The programs will be part of the newly named Fostering Futures program — previously known as the Independent Living Program — which helps young people transitioning out of foster care with the support and resources they need to reach and maintain stability as independent adults.
Foundation 2 Chief Operating Officer Sarah Nelson said the Education Advocate program is a two-year pilot program that is part of a research initiative out of Washington State University-Vancouver. The program aims to develop an evidence-based model to improve secondary education outcomes for young adults aging out of the foster care system.
“The statistics regarding successful outcomes for those aging out of the foster care system are not good,” Nelson said. “And that’s one of the reasons the Department of Human Services has its existing aftercare program that provides case management and extended support to those young adults up to the age of 24, and this program will almost be like an enhancement that focuses on that higher education piece.”
According to the National Foster Youth Institute, more than 23,000 children age out of the United States foster care system every year.
Of those, 20 percent will become instantly homeless and only about half will be gainfully employed by the age of 24.
Additionally, despite the challenges these young adults face, 70 percent of foster kids regularly say they would like to attend college someday, but only 3 percent of those who age out of foster care will earn a college degree.
Nelson said Foundation 2 will be using funding provided through the Youth Policy Institution of Iowa to hire a person who will provide support to young adults aging out of the foster care system as they pursue their educational goals.
Iowa is one of three locations nationwide that was selected for this program. The other locations are Georgia and Indiana, Nelson said.
In addition to the focus on education support, Foundation 2 will be setting its sights for the first time on violence prevention.
Funded through a Safe Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force grant, Foundation 2 will be adding a community outreach worker who will work with Linn County youth who are at high risk of either engaging in or being a victim of violence and trying to disrupt that cycle.
At-risk youth, Nelson said, will be identified through referrals from law enforcement, the juvenile justice system, teachers and education professionals, churches and outreach groups and social service workers and outreach groups.
Through regular “check-ins” with at-risk youth, Nelson said, the community outreach worker will provide support and mentoring, determine what needs they might have and act as a safe person to depend on and talk to.
The Foundation 2 program is part of a communitywide effort to curb youth violence in Linn County.
Because of the grant, Nelson said, an outreach worker will be able to “go into the neighborhoods and into homes and into schools and wherever we need to build relationships with the at-risk youth and offer that mentorship.”
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