To bring innovation, critical thinking, and valued support to the youth services field in Iowa.

internships Internship Opportunities

Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative

InSight Youth Leadership Board

United Way of Central Iowa

Iowa Department of Human Services

Youth & Shelter Services, Inc. (YSS)

Community Partnerships for Protecting

Achieving Maximum Potential (AMP)

Iowa Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning (CJJP)

Greater Iowa Credit Union

Science Center of Iowa (SCI)

Aligning policies, improving quality, and measuring results

Founded in 2000, the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa (YPII) works to expand and improve the delivery of services and supports for Iowa youth by partnering with public and private entities throughout the state. Our work in the Des Moines area and statewide includes the following types of activities:

YPII is involved in a wide range of initiatives, but specializes in policies and programs affecting youth transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, particularly those who have been involved in child welfare (foster care) or juvenile justice systems. This includes coordinating the statewide Iowa Aftercare Services Network (IASN), which provides services and supports to hundreds of young adults who age out of foster care. YPII is also the lead agency in Iowa for the national Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. Now in our 9th year of partnership with the Jim Casey Initiative, YPII is implementing a comprehensive set of strategies to improve results for older youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood.

Meet the Team

As YPII’s Executive Director, Carol Behrer works extensively with state government and youth-serving organizations in Iowa on policy and program development, coordination, quality assurance, evaluation and training. Behrer has more than 25 years of experience in state and federal policy arenas. Prior to returning to her home state of Iowa, Behrer lived and worked in the Washington, DC area, serving as Associate Commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as a senior legislative associate with the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee, and as a legislative assistant to Iowa Congressman Tom Tauke. Behrer earned her BA at the University of Northern Iowa and an MA in Legislative Affairs at George Washington University.

Joanie Havel joined the team at the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa in July 2005 as the Iowa Aftercare Services Network (IASN) coordinator. Her responsibilities include overall coordination of the network, oversight of data collection and reporting activities, quality assurance, developing and maintaining partnerships, coordination with the Iowa Department of Human Services, and ongoing support and training to IASN case managers. Havel has over 20 years of experience in the human service field. Prior to joining YPII Havel worked at Four Oaks in Waterloo as a family therapist and Customer Care specialist. She also worked at the Abbe Center for Community Care in Marion, Iowa as a Social Worker, and at Central Iowa Residential Services Inc. (CIRSI) in Marshalltown with developmentally disabled adults. Havel earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work at Mount Mercy College and is a Licensed Bachelor of Social Work.

Joanna McCaffery joined Youth Policy Institute of Iowa in December 2011 as the Director of Communications. Her responsibilities include the development of internal and external marketing communications, brand development and management, Public Relations, and online promotions. McCaffery has 16 years of experience in Marketing Communications, Brand Management and Public Relations. She comes to YPII from ABCM Corporation where she held the position as Corporate Marketing Consultant. Prior to that McCaffery worked for CDS Global in Des Moines, Iowa, as Senior Communications Specialist. She also worked for Children & Families of Iowa as their Marketing Communications Coordinator. McCaffery earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Iowa State University with an emphasis on Technical and Professional Communications, specializing in Marketing Communications and Public Relations for both corporate and nonprofit environments.

As YPII’s Program Manager, Jolene Holden works collaboratively with the YPII team and our state and local partners on a number of projects, with primary responsibility for managing Opportunity Passport™ and InSight and contributing to all of the Jim Casey Initiative strategies. She also helps to develop, pilot and sustain new initiatives, including programs to promote positive outcomes for youth in transition. Holden has over 20 years of experience in the human services field. Before joining YPII she was the Indian Child Welfare Act Coordinator under contract with the Iowa Department of Human Services. As a facilitator for the “Race: The Power of an Illusion” learning exchanges and a member of Iowa’s Cultural Equity Alliance Steering Committee she is dedicated to reducing disproportionality and disparity in the child welfare system. Holden earned her MA in Clinical Psychology from Sam Houston State University. 

Courtney Grotenhuis joined the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa team in September 2015 as Program Associate. Her primary responsibilities include supporting OPT-In, Iowa Aftercare Services Network, and the InSight Youth Leadership Board. Grotenhuis comes to YPII with a background in customer service, experience in research and the desire to support Iowa’s youth. Grotenhuis earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology at Iowa State University and is currently earning her Master of Public Administration with an emphasis on Non-Profit Management from Drake University.

Robert Bibens joined the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa in September 2015 as the Program Associate for Opportunity Passport™ and the InSight Youth Leadership Board. Prior to joining the YPII, Bibens served with several AmeriCorps programs, each with a strong emphasis towards youth and leadership development. These programs included City Year Little Rock, Offender Aid and Restoration of Arlington, Virginia, and most recently as a Program Manager with the City Year startup site in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Bibens earned his BA in Politics and Government from Drury University.

Andrea Dencklau joined YPII in November, 2014, as the Postsecondary Program Developer and primarily works with the OPT-in program.  Andrea has fifteen years of experience in the human services field in direct service and program development and management. Prior to joining the YPII team, Andrea worked with the Iowa Department of Human Services as the Community Partnerships for Protecting Children Liaison, Prevent Child Abuse Iowa as Program Manager, and Anawim Housing as Director of Family Services. She also worked for the Homeless Services Coalition of Greater Kansas City and Sheffield Place, a transitional housing program for women and children who are homeless. Andrea is dedicated to strengthening relationships between systems and communities to improve outcomes for youth and families. Andrea earned a BA in Political Science from the University of Iowa and Master’s Degree in Social Welfare from the University of Kansas.

Mark Behrer has been with YPII since its opening in 2000. In addition to his role as Chief Financial Officer, Behrer supports the Opportunity Passport™ program by monitoring all of the banking transactions of more than 100 participants, maintaining account data for the program, and serving as YPII’s primary liaison to the Greater Iowa Credit Union, the Opportunity Passport™ financial partner. Behrer is a native of Long Island, New York. He moved to Iowa in 1994, after living in the Washington DC area for a number of years.


Our History

The Youth Policy Institute of Iowa was established in 2000 to champion positive youth development policies and practices in Iowa. Founder and current Executive Director Carol Behrer formed the organization to leverage her passion for improving youth policy and practice to assist other state and local entities.
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