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Lindsey Bark
Cherokee Phoenix

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., on May 9, signed into policy the creation of a monthly transition stipend of $500 for Cherokee youth who are aging out of the foster care system and a one-time COVID-19 impact payment of $1,000 to more than 80 foster care families in the Cherokee Nation.

This pilot program, called Fostering HOPE, begins June 1 and will run through Dec. 31, 2024. There are currently more than 1,200 Cherokee foster children across the United States.

“We’re going to enact a policy to extend some additional support to some of the foster children that find themselves in the most vulnerable position,” Hoskin said. “We have every year a number of Cherokees who age out of the foster system. They turn 18 years old, they have not been adopted and they face some uncertainty, some anxiety about what comes next at a time when a lot of young people are celebrating turning 18, graduating high school, moving on with their plans. A lot of these young people are in a very difficult situation.”

The monthly stipend will be for eligible Cherokee Nation citizens who age out of the tribe’s, or State of Oklahoma’s, foster care systems when they turn 18 years old. Citizens in the state system must reside in the reservation. There are no residency requirements for citizens in the Cherokee Nation foster care system, according to a press release.

Requirements for participants in the monthly stipend program is they must be employed, seeking employment, or working toward a career training or degree program in the first two months to continue in the program.

“Monthly stipends can begin the month a participant turns 18 years old and end at age 21. Those who are actively working toward a career training or degree program at age 21 may remain in the program until age 23 or until their training or degree is complete,” according to the press release.

Additionally, participants in the Fostering HOPE program are to meet with a program counselor every two months, complete a financial wellness curriculum four times a year, and meet other eligibility requirements outlined by the program.

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The assistance to foster families will help with impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know that COVID has had an impact on every one of us,” Hoskin said. “We know that for foster families any kind of challenges in life fall heavily on them because they are already stepping up to do something really extraordinary which is to provide assistance and shelter and love to a Cherokee child in need in our foster system. So, issues like a pandemic seem to have hit those families particularly hard.”

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Cherokee Nation citizen Carney Duncan and his wife began fostering children nearly five years ago and said the impact payment will help where its needed.

“We opened up our home,” Duncan said. “Now we have seven little girls with us. All through this time we’ve have 16 placements. We’ve ended up adopting six, and going to adopt the seventh.”

He said they know that children need consistency and stability when they come into a new environment.

“Whenever we receive placement, the children, they come with some baggage,” Duncan said. “There’s trauma, there’s fear just from being removed from their home and their natural surroundings. Sometimes their behavior is not exactly what you’d like it to be. Sometimes you just got to be patient and be consistent.”

He said he encourages others to open their homes for children in need and the way the tribe is assisting showcases Cherokee culture.

“I think this is a great step in not only reunifying our tribe but keeping our tribe together and showing people what our culture is like. We take care of one another,” he said.

In addition, Cherokee Nation leaders also signed a proclamation designating May as Foster Care Awareness Month.

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This article was originally published in the Cherokee Phoenix.