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Authenticity and Compassion: A Conversation with Erin Stucky of KVC Health Systems

Erin Stucky of KVC Health Systems

Among the executive leadership team at KVC Health Systems is someone who has worked closely with helping children and families for years. Erin Stucky serves as Chief Operations Officer at KVC Health Systems helping to support KVC’s family of agencies including KVC Kansas, KVC Hospitals, KVC Nebraska, KVC West Virginia and KVC Kentucky. Erin helps to guide each organization with program planning to best serve families and provides support with contract and grant development so that we can provide quality and effective services. She also leads KVC’s human resources, marketing, development and facilities departments to ensure that we have the incredible staff, community support, and funds to continue offering services to families across the country.

We recently sat down with Erin to learn more about how she’s guiding KVC.

Congratulations on celebrating 22 years with KVC! Can you tell me how you started in your career? 


Title: Chief Operations Officer, KVC Health Systems
Education: Master’s degree in social work and bachelor’s in social work from the University of Kansas
Home: Lives with her husband and three children in the Johnson County, KS area

I started with KVC right out of undergrad with a BSW from the University of Kansas in 1997 as a case manager. This was right when the state of Kansas was privatizing the child welfare system and it was during the time when existing cases with the state were being transitioned to the new private provider, KVC. I showed up to the Lawrence office and got my very first caseload of 28 kids.

It was extremely stressful through that transition. My second day of work, another new hire was quitting because she was so stressed by the introduction to this new, complicated and confusing system.  It was at that moment that I realized that I had to do this. I had it in me. I understood why other people couldn’t do it, but I knew I had it in me. That was really the beginning of what is a continued mindset for me — “If not me, then who?” It was the beginning of the decision to remain committed to this work even when it got really rough.

As I learned to operate within that mindset, when I found opportunities to give feedback or ask difficult questions or push for change or share my new ideas – I would speak up. Over time, that created positive change for the work that I was doing and I saw an impact on better outcomes for families. As I continued to work in this way, I accepted new opportunities; I earned my master’s degree, accepted a promotion to supervisor, then director, eventually to president of KVC Kansas. I also had the honor of being a fellow with the Annie E. Casey Child and Family Fellowship. This executive leadership program develops leaders to improve life circumstances and create positive outcomes for children and families. The experience of such an intensive leadership development process alongside exceptional leaders from throughout the country taught me so much about executive leadership, creating change, impacting outcomes and really helping families from an organization’s operational and programmatic standpoint.

Why did you choose social work?

When I started college, I wanted to be a nurse. I was sure that’s what I wanted to do. As I worked through my early years of college, with every intention of going directly to a nursing school, I was struck with a sense that it just wasn’t right for me. I realized that the part of nursing that I was drawn to – the part that made me know this was what I wanted – was really social work. That was the part I liked, it was the helping people, it was developing relationships and being part of serving kids and families.

You have been helping children and families for over two decades. What are some challenges or changes that you’ve seen in child welfare?

Many challenges we see in child welfare systems are the same challenges that we have seen for many years. Child welfare is extraordinarily complex. It is a system that is working with kids and families arguably at their very, very worst time in their lives. We’re talking about a family that has experienced a crisis or series of crises that have led to their child or children being removed from their homes. For most people, that is about as low as you can get. Parents don’t want that for their families but are in such a state of crisis that system involvement is unavoidable. So, families become participants in this system that is complex, typically underfunded and extremely difficult to understand.

Then we’re also working with children who have been traumatized. They have most certainly been traumatized just by having been removed by their homes. We know that no matter what they experienced at home, even if everyone truly believes getting them out of a harmful situation is best in the moment, that removal is still a trauma. And then there is trauma from whatever was occurring in the family system that required removal.

So, for those reasons, a lot of the challenges are the same. Many states are finding ways to create improvement whether it be requiring evidence-based treatments, and investing more appropriately into prevention services which – I believe firmly – that the more we invest in prevention, the less we will need in foster care services or out-of-home treatment programs. By preventing kids from experiencing trauma, we will have healthier children and healthier communities.

What are some opportunities that you see for KVC to help improve child welfare?

The beauty of the work that we are doing in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia is that we have a voice in what is happening in the states. We have such strong, experienced people who will contribute and partner to share what has worked for better outcomes for the families that KVC serves and share what we’d like to see done differently to better help children and families.

What lesson have you learned throughout your career that has stuck with you?

A lesson I learned very early on is the importance for children to stay connected to their family members and to their communities. They must have authentic connections where they feel safe and supported so that they can thrive.

One of the biggest gaps I still see in our system is young people aging out of care, and without all of the resources and support and connections that they need to be successful. We must continue to show compassion and engage kids and families when we work with them to help them stay connected and supported.

What are some ways people can help children and families in their community?

Very simply, we can start with helping the community, your community, understand why helping children and families matters. Whether it’s your church community, or chamber organization or whatever group you belong to, you can share why this work matters to you.

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