By Tyler Hunter, Child Welfare Leader
First, let me thank each and every one of you all for attending today’s rally for Children’s Advocacy Week. My name is Tyler Hunter. I am from one of the best places on earth… Bowling Green, Ky (Warren Co). Outside of being a full-time college student dedicated to my education, I am also a foster youth alumni.
Since age 19, I have been a die-hard advocate for my brothers and sisters in our Child Welfare System. I got my start working for Murray State University’s Voices of the Commonwealth youth leadership statewide council. There, I worked amongst other outstanding Child Welfare alumni and collectively we delivered many policy and legislative changes for youth in care. The most precious to me just so happens to be Senate Bill 115 of 2020, which Senator Mike Wilson (Warren Co) so graciously assisted to help lead. SB 115 expanded the parameters around foster youth, like myself, in obtaining their post-secondary educational degree. And in April of 2020, SB 115 was signed into law by Governor Andy Beshear.
Since my first time attending this wonderful event, I have dreamt of using this platform to allow my voice to be heard to some of the most prestigious people in my great Kentucky state. I am honored that a simple person like me can have such a monumental opportunity. Although this is a week-long celebration, it is vital to understand that advocating for young people must be a priority 365 days a year.
I understand the difficulties that come with advocating; however, tremendous outcomes can yield from courageousness. I, myself, am a product of what can happen when someone gets involved. As a kid growing up in foster care, my voice was almost non-existent. I only survived because of those adults who were not afraid to call a spade a spade. Those adults happened to be: teachers, social workers and case managers, mentors, church members, and even my friends’ own parents. But the greatest of them all just so happens to be my adopted mother who poured into me daily until her departure. See, any and every one can get involved to make a difference in a child’s life.
With that being said, I’d like to shout out the Kosair Charities Face It Movement and their youth ambassadors. They understand that for three consecutive years, our Old Kentucky Home has been one of the national leaders for having the most child maltreatment cases. Child welfare is not just a DCBS issue, a teacher issue, or a parenting issue. Child welfare is multidimensional and is everyone’s business; from the youngest to the oldest; from the governor to the citizens.
For me, mitigating child maltreatment must be our state’s top priority. For you, there may be other issues for kids that you are advocating for this week. As you are hearing this week, the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children Policy and Budget priorities offer a number of solutions to challenges facing kids and families every day, including ones that would address racial disparities. Allowing local communities to regulate the display of tobacco advertisements to prevent kids from getting addicted to nicotine. Investing in Medicaid outreach to close the gap in health coverage for kids who are Latino. Treating kids like kids in the juvenile justice system. Increasing investments in Family Resources and Youth Service Centers in schools to help meet students’ basic needs so that they can be better learners both in and outside of the classroom. Holding parents accountable in ways that still allow them to maintain connections with their kids.
To my Governor and legislators, I ask you to make sure our state budget is strong and that it will provide adequate resources accessible to at-risk families and those who support, teach, and care for our youth through efficient legislation. This can only be achievable from listening to the institutions and constituent base who have first-hand professional and lived-experience. To my fellow Kentucky citizens, I urge you all to step-up and advocate for a child and/or family in need. There is a way for each and everyone of us to get involved.
The advocacy of those caring adults in my life modeled how passionate and selfless an advocate must be. I have these memories and experiences close to my heart and attempt to implement them within my own advocacy. So far, it seems to be working: look where I am now — a national advocate leader, a business owner, a graduate student. But most importantly, an active adult who cares and understands how important it is to protect and build-up our Kentucky youth. I started at the back door attending the Children’s Advocacy Week; everyone’s eyes gazed and focused on: the Governor and First Lady, Lieutenant Governor, Senate President Stivers, House Speaker Osborne, other legislators and state government officials, and most important, rally speakers.
This time, all eyes are on me. However, I’d like to take this opportunity to ask that you all look beyond me. Instead, look at those who like myself have been resilient to their childhood adversity, and are now loyal and persistent in being an active adult for vulnerable youth. I advocate not just for my brothers and sisters in foster care, but for every child who feels that they have no voice or that it is not being heard.
If you are a youth and this message resonates with you, then please know that you are capable of achieving what seems to be out-of-reach. I walked so that one day you all can run. I urge my fellow advocates to do more this year–increase your call-to-actions; raise your voices higher; ask for more; venture deeper into uncharted territory, and much more.
We owe our youth more. I see you, I hear you, I am you….. Now, let’s get to work!