TALEQUAH, Okla. (KFOR) – The Cherokee Nation is hoping a pilot program of monthly stipends will help youth aging out of the foster care system.

Additionally, they’re providing funds to foster families, in hopes of encouraging more folks to welcome kids in need into their homes.

There are more than 80 foster families in the Cherokee Nation.

They signed up to help change these children’s lives – but the children changed theirs as well.

“It’s an incredible journey,” said Carney Duncan, a Cherokee foster parent. “You’ll grow from it. It always brings a smile to my face, I do know that.”

However, it’s not a journey without challenges for these families – and especially for the youth they serve.

Every year, some kids in the system turn 18 without being adopted.

“I think one of the most challenging things anyone can face is moving into what is technically adulthood but aging out of a foster system,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. 

That’s why he and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner are announcing the Fostering HOPE pilot program.

It includes a $500 monthly stipend for Cherokee youth aging out of the foster care system through their 21st birthday and a one-time COVID-19 impact payment of $1,000 to the tribe’s more than 80 foster families.

“This stabilization will be really good for our kids as they move into the workforce or into education,” said Lou Stretch, Senior Director of Indian Child Welfare. 

“Somebody asked me, where’s that going to go?” Duncan said. “I tell them it’s going to go everywhere. We’ve got seven little girls. There’s clothes that need to be bought. There’s shoes that are wanted. There’s class projects that maybe need to be paid for.”

The pilot program begins June 1st and runs through 2024.

It will be funded through the Tribe’s Respond, Recover and Rebuild COVID-19 relief initiative.

Interested participants must be employed, seeking employment or working toward career training or a degree with in the first two months of participation. 

The stipends begin the month the youth turn 18 and end at age 21, unless the participant is in a career training or degree program. 

If so, they can stay in the program until they turn 23 or whenever the degree or training is complete.  

Throughout the year, Cherokee Nation citizens enrolled in the program will have meetings with program counselors, complete a financial curriculum four times per year and meet other eligibility requirements designated by the tribe.

Enrollment details will be announced through the Cherokee Nation Human Services Department.