Lacy Kendrick Burk has used her experience in foster care as the executive director at Youth MOVE National, an organization that works to unite the voices of individuals who have experienced the mental health, juvenile justice and child welfare systems.
She has been so effective that the federal agency dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues is recognizing her with a prestigious award.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced that it will award Burk for her work in the mental health field and advocating for others to address their own mental health issues on August 13, at the Voice Awards in Hollywood, Calif.
“I’m really excited,” Burk said. “This is the first award I’ve ever gotten. Getting this award gives us more awareness for what we’re working on with youth and mental health.”
In 2013, Burk was invited to the National Dialogue on Mental Health, which was organized by Creating Community Solutions as part of an initiative launched by President Barack Obama to address the mental health problems young people face. She also served as a keynote speaker at the Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week Press Briefing organized by the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health.
However, her work with mental health also includes her own experience battling with it.
Burk and here five siblings were removed from their parents’ custody when she was 15. She and her siblings were later split into pairs and placed into different homes. Burk’s foster care journey finally ended when her long-time foster parents adopted her at 28.
“Most of my advocacy has been driven by personal development, recognizing needs I have, seeing other people had the same needs,” she said. “I realized after getting involved in the advocacy work that I had a lot of trauma issues that were unresolved.”
Those unresolved issues caused depression and suicidal thoughts.
“By then, I realized, that if I was dealing with this, then there were probably many other people who were dealing with it, too,” said Burk. “That’s how I got involved with mental health issues.”
Burk’s work now focuses on providing opportunities for young people to use their voice like she has, and to provide better conditions for foster youth. Youth MOVE (Motivating Others Through Voices of Experience) has 77 chapters spanning 34 states. According to the organization’s 2013 annual report, it had 8,967 youth members.
“Going into foster care is traumatic itself,” she added. “Then you have everything that happens before and after that adds to trauma. If you never have the chance to deal with it appropriately, it will only get worse.”
Victor Valle is a reporter at The Chronicle of Social Change.