Since our founding in 1977, we at Kentucky Youth Advocates have made it our vision to make Kentucky the best place in America to be a kid. Forty years ago, with a much smaller staff and budget, advocates came together to find solutions for Kentucky’s kids. What we lacked in resources we made up for in our unwavering commitment to ensure a brighter future for our youngest citizens. As we kick off our 40th birthday celebration, we want to take a moment to look back at some of the stories that propelled KYA into action.

In 1977, a group of advocates united around troubling stories from the youth justice and child welfare systems. Two catalyzing events during this time helped to establish KYA as an organization focused on improving the lives of Kentucky’s most precious asset – its youth.

KYA learned of a nine-year-old boy in foster care who weighed only 17 pounds. Despite visits from social workers and doctors, no one identified the neglect and abuse of the young boy. In the second incident, a 15-year-old boy was housed in an adult jail when he got in trouble for skipping school — as was routine procedure at the time. Left alone in his jail cell, he hung himself just 30 minutes after his detainment. The result of these two horrific incidences involving youth proved the necessity of citizen oversight.

Through the years, the youth justice and child welfare systems have evolved. New opportunities arise, new challenges come up, and new solutions need to be found. Over these 40 years and amidst a changing political landscape, KYA has remained the one constant as the independent voice for Kentucky’s kids.

Forty years ago, our work in the case involving the malnourished nine-year-old boy helped to establish the Citizen’s Foster Care Review Board (CFCRB) of Kentucky to decrease the amount of time children spend in foster care. Today, KYA is looking ahead to groundbreaking improvement, be that about adoptions or preserving families, kinship care or preventing abuse and neglect.

Forty years ago, we campaigned to end the incarceration of children in adult jails, and we won. Because of our advocacy, kids no longer find themselves locked up alongside adults. And yet, ensuring that our commonwealth employs the most effective responses to kids who get in trouble is an ongoing effort. Just this year, our advocacy helped unite legislators around the common ground of future opportunities for children. Senate Bill 195, which was championed by Senate President Robert Stivers and Senator Whitney Westerfield and signed by the Governor this April, allows kids to expunge more offenses from their records, helping kids who stay on track have more opportunities for education and employment.

We’ve made groundbreaking strides over the years, and there is still much ambitious work left to do. Kids are counting on all of us — policymakers, advocates, and community leaders — to enact solutions that will make Kentucky the best place in America to be young. And forty years from now, KYA will still be the independent voice for Kentucky’s children.

Follow along on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter to read more stories throughout the year about key wins, leaders, and advocates who have helped shape our past, present, and future.

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