Chowan Presents Psychology Graduate Speaker Series | Shaneka Dicks ’14
On Tuesday, October 13, 2020, the Psychology Department kicked off a virtual lecture series featuring Chowan University graduate speakers. Shaneka Dicks, class of 2014, led the initial lecture.
The Prince George County, Maryland native opened Tuesday’s lecture with a heartfelt message describing how honored and privileged she felt to have the opportunity to come back to Chowan and talk to students who are currently walking the same walk she did six years ago. Shaneka confessed that early in her undergraduate career, she aspired to be an elementary education major. Even though she switched majors and graduated with a B.S. in Psychology, her passion for education and helping children had not waived.
Since graduating from Chowan University, Shaneka has held three significant jobs. Her first fulfilled her passion for education as a teaching assistant in Bertie County, Hertford County’s southern neighbor. But after witnessing stellar students struggle due to unstable home environments, Shaneka nixed her plan of pursuing a master’s of teaching degree and formulated a new career path toward helping children with difficult family lives succeed.
Shaneka’s second job took her and her husband to Orlando, Florida. Although she had trepidation about moving to a state so far from home without knowing many people in the area, Shaneka found a way to adapt and flourish in her new job. She worked as a therapeutic mentor for a case management program which was designated as a “community action team.” Shaneka claims that it was through this job, working with 12-21 year old youths with mental or behavioral disorders, that she gained the bulk of her experience.
For the past three years, Shaneka has been employed in Waco, Texas working as a case manager with former foster youth where she oversees Region 7, home to 32 Texas counties. Her clients, ranging from 17-21 years old, rely on Shaneka’s skills to help them gain access to housing, education, employment, foster care benefits, and community resources. Despite not meeting the application requirement for having a master’s degree, Shaneka was chosen for this important position based on her incredible qualifications and previous experience working with clients grappling with co-occurring disorders.
Prior to the pandemic, a normal day for Shaneka would include about four hours of driving between counties approximately four times a week. Although the work is draining, Shaneka beamed each time she expressed how rewarding her work in aftercare transitional services is.
Shaneka particularly appreciates how her job empowers young foster youth and enables them to mature into independent, young adults. Her job utilizes a strength-based program where a client’s strengths are identified to help them create a foundation and successful path toward achieving their ultimate goal. This evidence-based program gives clients confidence in a structured, transition plan that is built to help them succeed.
In addition to helping clients execute their goals, Shaneka’s job covers many expensive hurdles that might deter these former foster youth from pursuing their goals. For those pursuing higher education, the company will cover their college application fees. But not all budding 17-year-olds are ready nor desire a college education. This fact segways into the most substantial problem Shaneka faces with helping her clients be successfully independent, maintaining affordable housing.
Former foster youth who are content with attaining their GED can apply for a supervised independent living program (SIL) which extends their foster care into semi-independent living situations. The program provides housing while the state covers rent and utility bills. Unfortunately, 5-6 percent of Shakeka’s clients are homeless which is considered a crisis-level status that requires immediate attention. This statistic from 2019 has spurred Shaneka to create rapport with local apartments with private leases to convince them to accept SIL individuals since not many foster homes voluntarily accommodate 18- 21 year olds.
A lack of housing also has also resulted in low retention rates. The graduation rate for foster youth pursuing a four-year degree is a shocking 4 percent. This is attributed to the fact that most foster youth have nowhere to stay during winter and summer breaks. As a result, they end up homeless and do not reapply to school for the following year. These problems caused by lack of housing for former foster youth preaches the importance of adhering to a client’s hierarchy of needs. Their basic needs must be met if they are to have a chance at being successful. Although Shaneka grieves losing touch with clients who drop out of school or abandon their residency, she remains encouraged and marvels at the resilient ones who succeed.
In addition to discussing her experiences since graduating from Chowan University, Shaneka detailed her upcoming plans. She is excitedly preparing to attend graduate school where she will be pursuing a master’s in social work. Shaneka moves on to her next chapter in life with faith in her own future as well as the future of the foster care system. In Texas, a few counties have begun initiating a movement to have vouchers for former foster youth so they are able to pay rent for a couple years if they remain compliant with the program. With more steps in this direction, the foster care system can look to overcome the hurdles with housing and retention rates.