Andrea Dencklau

Research and Systems Innovation Director at Iowa ACEs 360 and HealthConnect Fellow

Her work as a HealthConnect Fellow

October 2019-June 2021


Ensuring that youth have solid connections to people they can count on for support and nurturing as a strategy to prevent youth from aging out of foster care and to prevent homelessness


Knowing how important nurturing, supportive connections are for youth development, Andrea Dencklau has focused her efforts since joining the fellowship in 2017 on shifting providers and decision-makers toward crafting healing-centered, culturally responsive policies and practices that keep youth connected to people who love them. Federal legislation prioritizing family connections and Dencklau’s stronger relationships with the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) gave her new opportunities to push this work forward.

Dencklau partnered with Iowa State University and DHS to conduct a community-based participatory research study. The Assessing Kinship Caregiving Engagement and Support report, published in June 2020, featured findings from interviews with 20 families, including kinship caregivers, parents, foster parents, youth, and caseworkers throughout Iowa. A supplemental policy brief outlined policy and practice recommendations gleaned from the study.

Dencklau shared the research paper and policy brief with DHS leadership, stakeholders, and various councils working on child welfare and facilitated conversations about the findings. Supervisors used the study to lead discussions with their staff.


The study highlighted many opportunities to more effectively support kinship caregivers, families, and young people. As a result, DHS took the following actions:

  • Offering a $300 monthly stipend for at least six months to kinship caregivers to cover the costs of providing care to children and youth.
  • Creating a new chapter in the DHS social work practice manual to specifically address how social workers can engage and support kinship caregivers.
  • Revising the “Roles and Responsibilities” document given to kinship caregivers to make it more caregiver-friendly.
  • Adding the Discovering Connections tool to the Case Manager Employee Manual. Dencklau adapted and piloted the tool earlier in the fellowship to enable case workers to help young people identify who is important to them.

In addition, Dencklau has emphasized equity and the needs of older youth during conversations with various groups. The Vision Council, a group that is reimagining the child welfare system, created an older youth work group to develop strategies specific to that demographic. Dencklau also helped the DHS Cultural Equity Alliance develop a stronger anti-racist vision and strategic plan.

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