Through a partnership with Kentucky Youth Advocates, Kosair Charities®, and Casey Family Programs, First Lady Glenna Bevin invited youth and young adults from across the state with diverse backgrounds to come together as the First Lady’s Youth Leadership Council (FLYLC) to forge a common ground around three big issues that affect children in Kentucky: child welfare, child abuse and neglect, and family preservation. 

received_208268686251262-3My name is Cynthia Schepers and I was in foster care since the age of 13. I was in and out of foster homes, some of which were abusive and made me wonder how those people ever became foster parents at all. In 2014, I graduated high school and went into an independent living program through Boys’ and Girls’ Haven, which meant that I was no longer in a foster home, but in an apartment and still financially taken care of by the state.

I am now about to turn 21 and finished the program successfully, which makes me a valued member of the First Lady’s Youth Leadership Council (FLYLC). I am currently enrolled as a student at University of Louisville, majoring in Political Science with a track in Law and Public Policy. I chose this major specifically because I enjoy my work with the FLYLC and hope to continue to make changes in the lives of foster youth. The FLYLC advocates for the well-being of children, family preservation, and the end of abuse and neglect. Together, members of the FLYLC brainstorm ideas about laws and policies that could be put into place to improve the lives of all children in Kentucky, not just the ones in foster care.

At our most recent meeting, we learned different things about Kentucky, because it’s important to know information about the place that we all live in, before we can make changes there. We also learned the process of passing a bill to be more informed about how difficult the process is. Understanding how the process works will help the FLYLC members approach the topic from different angles and to stay aware that not every idea can make it through the system, but that we must continue to do our best to press onward for change.

One issue that is close to my heart is the treatment of social workers. I personally believe that mistreating social workers creates a never ending cycle that causes kids to act out for attention. This is how it works: First, when social workers are mistreated, they will want to leave their jobs, which will leave the other workers with a higher case-load–meaning how many kids they are responsible for. When a social worker has too many case-loads, they inevitably have to neglect some of the “less important” case-loads, such as kids who already do what they are supposed to. So when a kid actually needs something and they have yet to develop a relationship with their social worker, they act out in order to get the attention of someone who can help in order to see some sort of change. With each bad thing that they do, it adds more weight to their file, making them seem like a bad kid and causing foster parents to not want them, all because they were not properly equipped to voice their opinion.

First Lady Glenna Bevin, Eric Clark who serves as the Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ Legislative Director, and Judge Tim Feeley who used to serve as a Family Court Judge and now works as the Deputy Secretary for the Cabinet of Health and Family Services joined us at our most recent retreat. Judge Feeley informed us of some changes that are already coming into play, such as social workers being treated better, starting with an increase in their pay, as well as making their job safer. This really encourages me, considering it is a topic near and dear to my heart.

We all have our visions for how we would like to see change come about, and through the First Lady’s Youth Leadership Council we can work to make them a reality.

Watch this short video from the Office of Governor Matt Bevin to learn more about the First Lady’s Youth Leadership Council’s work.