Article written by Lee Rettig, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Reprinted with permission.
Matthew Wallen, director of DHHS’ Division of Children and Family Services, recently helped mark one year of Bring Up Nebraska, the community collaborative organization that provides community-based supports to help keep families together and keep kids out of the child welfare system when safe to do so. He spoke at a press conference about the 44 percent of 0 to 5-year-olds in the foster care system who have at least one parent who was also in the child welfare system.
While Governor Pete Ricketts and First Lady Susanne Shore were also part of the event, there was another speaker who had a much more personal perspective, and motivation, to share.
Rebecca Daugherty’s story started when she entered into the child welfare system at age 10 and continues, today, as she is now a mother herself.
“I am a generational youth myself, who has a mother who was in the system, as well,” said Daugherty, as she spoke to the crowd. “I don’t want my son to come into the system and follow my footsteps, so I am working very, very hard to make sure that my life, and our future, is a better place for him.”
Having been a state ward, in group care and in foster homes, she now advocates for the community supports that can keep families together and prevent children from the life she has lived.
“It’s just mind-boggling to me, I wanna cry when I think about that statistic.”
But the 22-year-old Omaha resident isn’t satisfied just wanting things to change; she’s becoming the change she wants to see.
Daugherty will graduate from college with a paralegal/pre-law degree this spring, with an eye on becoming a lawyer.
There’s good reason to believe that Daugherty will be much more than another wide-eyed college graduate about to change the world, though. She already does advocacy work for the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation (NCFF) and serves on the NCFF Youth-led advisory board, has served as an intern for Voices for Children of Nebraska, and is a Jim Casey Foundation Young Fellow and being considered for a position on the Jim Casey Fellow advisory board.
When she left the child welfare system, Daugherty wanted absolutely nothing to do with it, ever again. She wanted no help from anyone. But she needed help, and the community collaborations that make up Bring Up Nebraska were there to support her and help her as a young woman with few other supports and as a new mother.
“A PALS (preparation for adult living) worker helped me do what I needed to graduate high school while working full-time and learning how to be a parent. The guidance provided by the community support groups is what kept me on track and kept my son safe and with me. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Now, she is looking to break the cycle of generational youth in care and is advocating for change, including connecting at-risk families with the same community collaboratives that have helped her, with an eye on reversing or stopping the cycle of kids in the system becoming parents to kids in the system.
“I feel really passionate about giving back to what I think I needed,” said Daugherty, with determination in her eye. “It’s just a cycle I really want to see broken.”
Learn more about the Bring Up Nebraska movement at www.bringupnebraska.org.