At the 13th annual Children’s Advocacy Day rally on February 9th, Tessa Bowling, a senior from Covington and a member of the First Lady’s Youth Leadership Council, shared her story with over 900 advocates in the Capitol Rotunda. Read her story or watch her speech as part of the rally on YouTube.

We all know why we’re here today. Today is a day to celebrate the progress that has been made in the past year in giving Kentucky kids a brighter future. My name is Tessa, I am 18 years old and I live at Homeward Bound shelter in Covington. I’m a member of the First Lady’s Youth Leadership Council and it’s because of that that I’ve been given the opportunity to talk to you today.

Youth advocacy is really important to me because I never really had a say in what happened to me. I was removed from my mom’s house when I was young due to my mother’s alcoholism. Like a lot of kids who have been put into that position, I fought it. I didn’t see any problem with what my mother was doing. I lied to myself. I knew it wasn’t normal for someone to go through an entire twelve pack by themselves in one night. I knew it wasn’t normal for a kid to tuck their own mother into bed at night.

But still, I labeled myself as normal. I had friends. I went outside. I was happy. Given the choice back then, I would have stayed. Given the choice now, I would ask for family counseling, because not enough effort was put into preserving my family. I still believe that my life could have been very different if the effort to keep my family together had been made.

After being removed from my mother’s home, my sister and I were placed with various family members. But none of them provided the safety, support, and stability that we needed. After several tumultuous years, in which we were subjected to physical and emotional abuse, in which we adjusted to and then were ripped from different schools, we ended up living in a shelter. The shelter has been my home for over a year and it’s where I plan to stay until I finish my senior year at my fourth high school.

At this moment there are nearly 8,000 children in foster care in Kentucky. And a much greater number – over 71,000 of us – were involved in investigations by the child welfare system to determine whether our homes were safe for us. But in too many cases, things don’t get better, they get worse.

In too many cases, we slip through the cracks. I have experienced this firsthand and hear it from other kids in the shelter.

Since coming to the shelter, I’ve heard stories that make my skin crawl. I’ve held someone as they cried, because they had to go BACK to a situation like mine. I’ve comforted kids who found out that their sibling was being abused at their foster home and nothing was done about it. I’ve heard of physically and sexually abused kids, kids who tried to kill themselves, kids who turned to drugs, kids who were ripped away from their families and sent HOURS away in order to find a foster home to accommodate them.

You name it, I’ve seen it. There are some truly awful things that happen to kids in Kentucky every day, and nobody knows. But, I say, no more. That’s why the things we do here today are so important. Things have to change.

That is the reason why despite how terrified I am to tell my story, I’m standing in front of you. Because I never want to have to hear one of those stories again.

I never had input in decisions that affected me and mine is a copy of many. Kids like me get tossed around, and feel ignored because overloaded, underpaid caseworkers are scrambling for a place to put us, scrambling for a family to care for us.

But we’re just kids and the adults know best, right?

WRONG. WE ARE PEOPLE and we have a voice. I am the future and so are YOU.

You and you and you and you! And to the adults in the audience today. And to the law-makers here today – we are your children, and your children and your children. I am your child.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what your past is. ANYONE can make a stand for Kentucky’s invisible children. We are here today to ignite change. That is the purpose of today, to lend our support. We are the voice of the voiceless – the underdogs. They need someone to speak where they can’t. I will stand and be their voice.

Will you?