Cynthia Schepers, a college student from Jefferson County and a member of the First Lady’s Youth Leadership Council, spoke at the ceremonial signing of House Bill 1 on May 31, 2018. Read her speech below.

My name is Cynthia Schepers and I am a former foster youth and current Junior at University of Louisville. The passing of House Bill 1 is an amazing victory for the children of Kentucky. HB 1 does many things for the youth of Kentucky, including establishing the Child Welfare Oversight & Advisory Committee, additional reporting of Department of Community Based Services caseload averages, streamlining and evaluating family preservation services, allowing individuals in states care access to free birth certificates, and allowing the state to create programs for kinship care supports.

Let me share some of my story with you today so that you can understand what this bill could have done for youth like me, and will do for current and future youth. My parents died when I was very young and I was always raised by my grandmother until I was put in foster care at age 13 and stayed until I was 21. I was put on the back burner nearly the whole time because I was “a good kid who made good grades.” But, I think we can agree that if there is enough going on at home for a child to be removed, that child is going to need as much love and support as they can get. That is why it is important that DCBS caseloads are reported, so that social workers have a sufficient amount of time to dedicate to each case, and no child has to feel like they have no support.

In my time in foster care I moved over ten times, that includes foster homes, residential, hospitals, and eventually independent living. Most of those placements were neglectful, some even were abusive. I felt alone a lot of the time and could not picture a bright future for myself, which lead me to spiral into a deep depression.

I needed supports in my life at that time, especially emotional supports, but sometimes I did not even have my basic needs met. I once lost an opportunity to get a job because I didn’t have a birth certificate, and now with HB 1, that is less likely to happen because now youth in care have access to their birth certificate for free.

Despite all the negative experiences I have had in foster care, I am fortunate enough to have a future now that is better than what I was destined for because of foster care. Most are not so lucky, sometimes foster care makes a child’s situation even worse, which is why it’s so important that HB 1 makes family preservation and kinship care support a priority, so that kids don’t lose their sense of identity and culture by being thrown into the system.

Another great thing about HB 1 is the advisory committee for child welfare that it establishes. The youth in this state and their welfare is now more of a priority than ever. That means issues are more likely to be identified so that solutions can be found and things that work well can continue on with this new spotlight on the system.

I speak to give youth like me a voice, and because of wonderful people like our Governor, the First Lady, Representative David Meade, Representative Joni Jenkins, and all the amazing people at Kentucky Youth Advocates, that voice can make change.

Read a statement from Kentucky Youth Advocates on the signing of House Bill 1 here.