20 Apr Youth Work to Improve Child Welfare | Bevin
This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Courier Journal on April 20, 2017.
By First Lady Glenna Bevin and Jenna Ebel
In a perfect world, no child would ever live in fear. In a perfect world, every child would grow up in a loving, nurturing environment. Sadly, we do not live in such a world. In the state of Kentucky alone, nearly 54,000 cases of child abuse were investigated last year and we know that many more cases were not brought to the attention of the authorities. The tragedy and heartbreak demonstrated by such stark statistics are breathtaking in scope. As a state, we must do better. And it will take all of us, working together, to stem this tide.
As parents, caretakers and extended family members, we can be observant. We can be eyes and ears for signs of abuse. We can educate ourselves to recognize warning signs and report abuse. More importantly, to prevent abuse, we can support one another as we seek to form healthy relationships with our children and extended family members. Our role may be as simple as giving a neighbor or relative a break from child care or mentoring parents that may be struggling with stresses.
Perhaps you are reading this and you are the one struggling. Perhaps life seems overwhelming and you sometimes find yourself taking out your frustrations on your child. If that is the case, reach out. The Kosair Charities’ Face It Movement to end child abuse shares resources for coping with parental stress and tips for recognizing and preventing abuse. If you need immediate help, call the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-4A-PARENT (1-855-427-2736). Abuse can be stopped before it starts.
When children do suffer abuse, they need a safe haven. Kinship and foster care can provide the safe, nurturing home they need. Still, the transition to kinship or foster care can be disruptive and jarring to the children involved. Not only are children suddenly away from family, they may also have to change schools and communities. That is why laws were created in this last legislative session that will help foster children be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve while minimizing the trauma of change. HB 180 will allow the courts to place children that need care to be placed with “fictive kin,” or non-blood relatives, with whom the child already has a loving relationship and who are willing to step in and provide care for the child. In addition, Kentucky law (HB 192) will now allow foster kids to get their driver’s license at the age of 16, enabling them to gain the independence needed to get to school or a part-time job.
Through a partnership with Kosair Charities and Casey Family Programs, I invited youth from across the state with diverse backgrounds to come together as the First Lady’s Youth Leadership Council to use their voice to improve the child welfare system.
Jenna Ebel, a charter member of FLYLC, shares her reflections:
“FLYLC is a group of young people who were initially strangers from all walks of life and all parts of our state, but who have now become friends. We give both a face and a voice to children who have experienced abuse. While not everyone in the group has been abused or neglected, our backgrounds are all valid and important to our cause, whether we are allies or survivors. I got involved with FLYLC through Peace Education Program, which is a partner in the Face It Movement to end child abuse. At Peace Ed, we are taught peaceful conflict resolution to use in deescalating situations. We are taught to use our words and not put blame on people in situations, which I have seen work firsthand.”
“FLYLC not only empowers those who have been abused but also empowers all group members. We are told that our stories matter – what we need matters. We are not treated like kids; we are treated like people who can truly make changes for the better. Our advocacy for policy changes in Frankfort is rooted in the goal of changing the lives of those who’ve experienced abuse. The passing of HB 180 showed us and others that we can make a difference.”
“FLYLC members’ different backgrounds have made us a stronger group to advocate for change.”
First Lady Glenna Bevin is working with the legislature and groups around the Commonwealth to expand child abuse prevention and early treatment.
Jenna Ebel is a tenth grader at Mercy Academy in Louisville and a charter member of the First Lady’s Youth Leadership Council.