fbpx Making Their Voices Heard: The North Dakota Youth Advisory Board
Authored by Nexus Family Healing on February 27, 2024

In 2023, North Dakota proclaimed October to be "Foster Youth Voice Month" 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. Its purpose is to also raise awareness of community and youth boards to ensure youths’ voices are heard.

Char, Alexis, Olivia, and Kalista are lived experts who serve on The North Dakota Youth Advisory Association (NDYAA) Leadership Board. The NDYAA Leadership Board, oversees the NDYAA, which hosts town hall meetings and is comprised of youth ages 14-23, with lived foster care experience. The goal of the NDYAA Leadership Board is to raise community awareness around foster care and independent living programs, spreading education on how to individuals can support these programs. They have also been working on having their voices heard among legislatures.

The youth were first appointed to serve on the NDYAA Leadership Board by Nexus-PATH employees, Steph Caspers, Supervised Independent Living Services Coordinator; Tanya Hennix, Chafee Transition Coordinator; and Brooke Biederstedt, Director of Independent Living Services.

“We look for youth with a variety of skills and experience and look at the Youth Board as a way they can rewrite the story of what foster care has to be for youth," said Brooke Biederstedt.

“…I figured it was a good way to get involved further and find more funding options so I can be successful,” said Kalista.

Reducing the Stigma of Foster Care

The board members all have different inspirations for being on the board, but they are unified by similar goals: to spread awareness and increase knowledge about foster care in North Dakota, to reduce the foster care stigma, and to increase empathy and understanding. 

“…there is a need for someone to be in these kids’ lives and finding ways to keep them in a permanent home,” said Char. Every foster care situation is different and unique, and they feel inspired to help spread that awareness.

Part of this proclamation is to highlight existing programs and services available to youth with lived experience in foster care. One program worth highlighting is the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program For Successful Transition to Adulthood, more commonly known as The Chafee Program.

It is the mission of The Chafee Program “to ensure that youth involved in the foster care system receive services and support which will enable them to successfully transition to live independently”. The Chafee Program is a youth-driven program, in which youth identify key goals for their individualized success. Through amplifying the youth voice, youth often feel empowered to make decisions and build lifelong skills. However, it is important to recognize that this journey can be amplified through a concept of interdependence. A key factor for success is often closely tied to the connection of one positive adult. The Chafee Program strives to promote connectedness to people and communities for the youth served.

“…if we can prepare people as kids," said Kalista, “it sets them up to be more successful as adults."
For these youths, this proclamation is important in giving voices to youths otherwise silenced. “It allows kids to feel proud and represented,” said Char, “despite the situations that they’re in and it opens a lot of doors for more action in the future.”

“This [proclamation] shines a light onto the subject…it  help change the stigma and how we are represented,” said Olivia. 

The youth want to see change and new initiatives over the next few years in foster care, including making it a standard to hear youth’s voices from the beginning, an end to statute of limitations on child abuse, and recognition and pay for foster parents and group home workers. 

“Enabling young people to be heard must be followed up with action,” said Brooke, “it’s our group’s job to keep the conversation going and make sure we have our voices heard.”

Youth should have a seat at the table when it comes to the creation of policies and procedures that will directly impact their lives, so they are aware of what’s happening around them, and have a choice in the matter. 

“Foster care is for life,” said Char, “it doesn’t just end when we turn 18…I may not be 12 and in foster care anymore , but I have been there, and I never heard a politician, policy maker, or anyone making these choices ask someone who has experienced foster care what they think might work better.”

Foster youth can offer real-world perspectives on the experience that those who haven’t been in foster care won’t know. “When people who haven’t experienced it are trying to say what works and what doesn’t work, they don’t have the lived experience to know if that change is needed,” said Kalista, “This group has a lot of diversity in their placements and different perspectives on what changes in the system are needed.”

“A seat at the table looks different everywhere,” said Char, “it doesn’t need to be a seat at the big table, just asking opinions and giving kids options.”

For others, being heard from the beginning would’ve been helpful at the very start of their foster care journey. 

“This journey and these choices affect me and my future…. we are lived experts of our own experiences,” said Kalista. “Give your kids and caseloads and communities the same seat and opportunity that you would give a board of youth or directors”. 

To learn more about The North Dakota Youth Board Association, visit Youth Advisory Board | Health and Human Services North Dakota.

To learn more about The Chafee Program, visit Chafee Program & Education and Training Voucher | Health and Human Services North Dakota.

Learn more about Nexus Family Healing's foster and adoptive care services.