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Tenacity, determination and confidence describe 20-year old foster care youth Haley Kuehl. Kuehl, who is a second-year student at St. Cloud State University with plans to become a pediatric nurse, was named one of FosterClub's Outstanding Young Leaders of 2013.
FosterClub is a national network of more than 35,000 young people in foster care that works to affect positive change in the foster care system. Each year FosterClub recognizes 100 young leaders who give back to their communities and improve the foster care system. Kuehl was the only Minnesotan selected for the 2013 award.
Kuehl, a Douglas County foster youth since age 11, credits her “amazing foster mom” for championing her to advocate for services and extend her own care in the foster care system beyond age 18. Like many foster youth, Kuehl's experience includes multiple placements and attempts to reunite her and her sister with their birth parents. Her determination and courage has made a difference for her and for others.
Kuehl served for more than four years on the Willmar Minnesota Youth Leadership Council, one of four in the state that advises the Minnesota Department of Human Services on development of policies that affect children in the foster care system. She raised funds, secured a grant to buy luggage for incoming foster children and helped organize rallies at the Minnesota Capitol. She challenged decisions on her own case and helped changed policy, spoke with legislators about the need to support youth aging out of foster care, and raised awareness of their complex and unique needs. Kuehl drew attention from FosterClub for her leadership, actions and commitment to improve foster care programming.
Funding from the department’s Education Training Voucher (ETV) program has helped Kuehl with her college expenses. “I work and save money for school. The ETV program helped me minimize my college debt and be independent,” said Kuehl.
“We applaud Haley’s persistence and celebrate her achievements,” said the Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. “Our goal is for all children in foster care to return safely home or become part of another permanent family but when that doesn’t happen, we want to do all that we can to ensure foster youth get the services and support they need to achieve their full potential and succeed.”
Every day foster families provide for children in crisis. They help children reunite with their birth families; move on to safe, nurturing, permanent families; or choose to become their permanent families. In Minnesota, approximately 11,400 children are in out-of-home placement, and foster families provide care for about 8,000 of them.
In 2015, the department will implement Northstar Care for Children to provide a single program that supports permanency and improves outcomes for children. Northstar Care for Children will create incentives and remove barriers to help reduce the number of children who leave foster care each year without a permanent family.
More information about Minnesota’s foster care programs and initiatives can be found on the DHS website.