Foster care as we know it has been around since the early 1900s, but Cherokee people have provided a version of “foster care” for much longer. Historically, Cherokee children were raised in a community setting, with every person in a child’s life taking on a specific role to ensure that they grew into a well-rounded Cherokee.
Unfortunately, through assimilation, the removal of Cherokee children to boarding schools, and other federal policies that attacked Native families, many Cherokee children lost their language, their cultural grounding and their connection to community lifeways.
The loss of that community and cultural heritage was traumatic. Some of those Cherokee children eventually became parents without memories of a healthy family life to emulate with their own children. Some turned to alcohol and drugs to deal with the trauma, and some were neglectful or abusive. This is what we mean when we talk about historical and intergenerational trauma that harms Cherokee families to this day.
Overcoming this trauma is a heavy burden, but fortunately today we are moving back to caring for our children in the Cherokee way. Our talented Cherokee Nation Foster Care Services team is helping to provide love, identity, self-esteem and support to our Cherokee children. They are rebuilding the strong families and communities that are the foundation of the Cherokee Nation.
Recently, we announced two new initiatives to better support our foster families and children, funded through the tribe’s Respond, Recover and Rebuild COVID-19 relief initiative. The Fostering HOPE pilot program, which begins June 1, will provide a $500 monthly stipend to eligible Cherokee Nation citizens who are aging out of the Cherokee Nation or state of Oklahoma foster care systems.
When children in foster turn 18, far too many enter adulthood with little or no support. It can be a confusing and scary time for young people who have already been through a lot. The $500 stipend and related support services will make that transition easier.
To qualify, participants must be employed, actively seeking employment or working toward career training or a degree program. The 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. Participants will also meet with a Fostering HOPE counselor every two months and complete financial wellness curriculum.
There are no residency requirements for citizens who are in the Cherokee Nation foster care system. Eligible state participants must live within the borders of the Cherokee Nation.
Cherokee Nation’s other new foster care initiative is a one-time COVID-19 impact payment of $1,000 to the tribe’s current foster families. We know that being a foster family can be difficult, and the difference that they make can sometimes go unseen. But serving in this way is also a huge blessing that touches those families, and the Cherokee youth they embrace and love now and into the future.
I am proud of the work of our First Lady, January Hoskin, who uses her platform to spread awareness of our need for foster families that support Cherokee children. Right now, we have more than 80 active Cherokee foster homes and more than 1,200 Cherokee youth in foster care across the United States, including 550 of those youth within the reservation. We still need more quality Cherokee foster homes nationwide, but I believe in the spirit of our people: Once they know of a problem, they will find a way to conquer it.
To explore how your family might join in this mission, you can visit https://icw.cherokee.org.
All children are a precious gift. When a birth family is not able to care for a Cherokee child, it’s essential to find another supportive Cherokee family who can. In many cases, foster care can be a bridge to eventual reunification of children with their birth parents. It is how we follow the model of our ancestors to look out for one another, so that we may all be stronger together as one Cherokee Nation.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.