With the sunset on Feb. 26, a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol was retired in honor of a Department of Health and Welfare employee whose career with the department also has ended. Child Welfare Program’s Independent Living Program Specialist, Falen LeBlanc, was honored with the Capitol flag by foster youth she has tirelessly advocated for during her 15 year career with DHW’s child welfare program.
Former foster youth Ricky Lewis and Kailamai Hansen, who now co-chair the Idaho Foster Youth Advisory Board, made the arrangements for the Capitol flag through Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo’s office. Sen. Crapo will send the flag to Idaho, along with a personalized congratulatory note to Falen. Ricky, Kailamai and other former foster youth joined DHW staff on a recent Friday afternoon and showed Falen a webcam view of the flag flying over the U.S. Capitol in her honor as they paid tribute to her.
“It was very sweet and moving,” Falen said. “I am going to miss my co-workers, but leaving the kids that I have worked with over the years is the hardest thing. I am so proud of them; they have grown so much and they are so special. ”
LeBlanc has accepted a position in Tulsa, Okla., where she will develop curriculum for the National Resource Center for Youth Development to help social workers across the nation support older foster youth as they move to adulthood.
“I actually began my career using the very same curriculum I now get to help develop, and I am really excited about that,” she said.
Falen began as an intern in DHW’s child welfare program during her junior and senior years in college. After graduation, she worked as a case manager for the department and almost immediately began developing programs for older youth in foster care.
She was responsible for implementation of the federal John E. Chafee Independent Living Program, which helps older youth in foster care transition to adulthood. She also helped implement a training voucher program for older youth to receive financial help to continue their education beyond high school, and helped create the Impact Scholars Program. The Impact Scholars Program is designed to help foster children enroll in higher education and be mentored and supported to successful graduation.
Falen also played a major role in creating the state’s first Idaho Foster Youth Advisory Board. She worked directly with the board to create policy and practice that reflects a youth voice in child welfare practice, including Idaho’s first Youth in Foster Care Bill of Rights.
Kailamai interned for Sen. Crapo and came up with the idea of presenting a Capitol flag to Falen.
“Falen changed my life,” she said. “I was out of foster care when I met her, but she went above and beyond in helping me go to school.” Kailamai plans to graduate from Lewis-Clark State College this summer and hopes to go on to law school.
“Older youth in foster care are harder to place, and once they turn 18, they kind of get lost,” she said. “So many of our older youth in foster care have overcome their trauma and turned it into something positive because of Falen and all she has done for us.”