By Ana Pohlgeers, high school senior from Campbell County

Four homes. Count them. FOUR! From the age of two, when my birth mother dropped me off at Child Protective Services begging for someone to take me off of her hands to give me a better life, until the age of six, when I was finally adopted by my forever family, I lived in FOUR. Different. Homes. Young, terrified and determined not to ever love again, I transitioned from home to home with the grace of a giraffe on ice skates.

The first home was an adventure. It was closed down because my foster mother punished me through extreme tactics including sitting me in a bathtub of near boiling water when I misbehaved. Home two consisted of the “boyfriend” of my birth mother who volunteered to “raise me”. This, too, ended quickly – this time with my “dad” dropping me off at Child Protective Services. Home three had a family looked like they would be the perfect fit. They had money. They had a beautiful home. Everything appeared perfect until they chose to not to adopt me.

When I got to home number four, I knew this was where I was meant to be. Here I found an older brother, also adopted from foster care, and my mom and dad. They were in love with me from day one and were fearlessly committed to my physical and mental healing and well-being. When I think back, I can’t remember much, but people always seem to think I must be somehow scarred or damaged. With the help of my forever family, I have learned a new term that represents my journey – I call myself “bent not broken.”

How does my story link to the here and now? The latest Kentucky KIDS COUNT data show 47 in every 1,000 children are living in foster care. That adds up to approximately 10,000 children each year who are thrown into a system and who, like me, are “bent not broken”. So where does all of this place me and thousands of other children like me who have experienced trauma and mental illness? Simply put, childhood trauma is rapidly becoming a public health epidemic, and our state can implement solutions to address it!

We must prioritize students’ access to mental health services and give school personnel the training they need to help students. Fortunately, during last year’s legislative session, our lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the School Safety and Resiliency Act, and this year they have the opportunity to fully fund it.

Additionally, Kentucky can do so much more to support kids in our commonwealth, like:

  • Increasing investments in Family Resource and Youth Service Centers so students and their families can get their basic needs met.
  • Better supporting kinship caregivers which can reduce trauma for children by allowing them to stay with someone they know instead of going to a foster home with strangers.
  • Investing in both family preservation and substance abuse treatment which would allow families facing barriers to stay together safely.
  • Prioritize investments in child health coverage and continue to close the remaining gap in coverage so that kids can access the behavioral health services they need.

I may just be one “bent not broken” voice, but I’m confident our lawmakers and leaders will hear my voice along with the one million other Kentucky kid voices. And I’m confident that all of you in the audience will hear my voice because you know that Kentucky kids need each of us, every day.

Use your voice as I am to speak to your legislators and tell them that there is no more important vote — than to VOTE FOR KIDS.

Ana Pohlgeers shared her story as the opening youth speaker at the 2020 Children’s Advocacy Day at the Capitol on January 23rd. Watch a recorded live streaming of the Rally for Kentucky Kids.