BISMARCK, ND - North Dakota Health and Human Services (HHS) encourages North Dakotans to commemorate the more than 1,450 youth involved in the state’s foster care system, and nearly 300 young adults who are currently engaged in North Dakota independent living services during Foster Youth Voice Month.
The purpose of the month’s proclamation is to give North Dakota’s youth and young adults involved in the foster care system an active role in the decisions that impact their lives and to raise awareness about the state’s network of independent community-based youth councils and other resources that can help ensure children reach their full potential and live safe and healthy lives.
“Wherever we have come from or traveled, and whatever we have experienced, one thing that we have in common is that we want to be seen, and we want to be heard,” said Alexis (Lexi) Aragon. “Foster care is a path less traveled than most and the individual carries so much weight, like stigma and misconception.”
Aragon was a child in foster care herself and is currently a member of the Leadership Board of the North Dakota Youth Advisory Association. The association serves as a platform for youth who are in foster care or are foster care alumni to be advocates for foster care and give input and a youth perspective for developing child welfare-related policy and programs that improve services for children and youth in foster care.
Case Management Administrator Lisa Piche serves as the association’s HHS Children and Family Services liaison. During her time in this role, Piche has met and worked with numerous inspirational and resilient youth, young adults, and advocates who are passionate about building a network of support and guidance for those who are transitioning or have transitioned from foster care.
“Individuals aging out of foster care may lack family and social support,” Piche said. “As a result, they face enormous challenges in making a smooth transition to adulthood and building successful lives. North Dakota’s commitment to support individuals does not end when they are discharged from foster care.”
In addition to the North Dakota Youth Advisory Association, the state also provides the Chafee Program as an avenue of support for foster individuals, between the ages of 16-23. Both the association and program work in conjunction, creating a solid foundation that not only provides resources, but also a community network and a platform where individuals have a voice that is heard.
One of the most common concerns raised within the association is the stigma associated with individuals in foster care.
“Children in foster care are sometimes seen as ‘delinquent,’ ‘trouble,’ or sometimes not seen or understood at all,” said Aragon. “Misconceptions like these must be uprooted, like weeds from a garden, to further promote the health and safety of children in the foster care system.”
Piche explained that children in foster care are just like everyone else, however; their path to adulthood is a lot different than most. “The perseverance these children and young adults exhibit to create a safe, secure, and successful life of their own is nothing short of extraordinary.”
“Children in foster care are not less than or deserving of anyone else,” Aragon said.
“We’ve just received less than most and with the state’s foster care programs, we get some of that back.”
Aragon said her time in the North Dakota Youth Advisory Association and the Chafee Program has overall been a learning experience.
“There were times as a foster youth myself when I would have given anything to be adopted or fostered by people who saw me as their own child,” Aragon said. “Family doesn’t always look the same, but unconditional love should. Everyone deserves to feel loved, safe, and appreciated.”
To learn more about the Chafee Program, visit hhs.nd.gov/cfs/fostercare/chafee-program-education-training-voucher.