Tamara Vest shared the following speech at the 2023 Children’s Advocacy Week Rally for Kentucky Kids at the Capitol.

It’s not everyday that our citizens, representatives from the General Assembly, and our Governor are able to gather in the Capitol building to celebrate each other and call upon each other, and rely on one another to do the work that it takes to make the commonwealth a place where kids and families can be just that, kids and families. 

As an advocate and former adolescent in Kentucky’s foster care system, I know how important it is to be able to be just a kid, to be able to be just a family. The past 5 years I have dedicated myself to advocating for the well-being of children in foster care through policy changes, going out into the community and sharing my experiences and making recommendations for change to other champions. And the past 5 years have led me to where I am today, an advocate for all children, not just those with certain experiences, because all children deserve the opportunity to be just kids. 

Reflecting on the work I’ve done in our state, and being here today, I realize that there are many things we want to do or need to do to make Kentucky a great place for kids. But instead of listing out everything, I want to invite all of Kentucky’s kids and young adult advocates who are here today to use this platform to be your own champion and to be a champion for others.

Your voices are the ones that matter. Your stories are the ones that need to be heard. Your experiences are valid. You deserve to take up space, and your needs deserve to be addressed. Sometimes those who are serving us don’t always understand or aren’t always privy to the knowledge of our needs if we don’t voice them ourselves.

There are many avenues that you can take in order to share your experiences and voice your needs. Calling, writing, and emailing your legislators is a great way to start. You can also meet with leaders in your community whether that’s in churches, schools, local boards, other local advocacy groups or you can even write blogs.

There are so many ways to get involved, so be creative, be brave and be bold. 

The engagement of our young people, our future generation, those who will go on to serve our community long after us, is vital to our success in making the commonwealth the best place for a kid to be. So it’s important that as our young people are building these platforms of advocacy, that our representatives, community leaders and agencies provide a welcoming and accepting space and pursue active listening and authentic partnership.

As we celebrate our past and present successes for children in the commonwealth, I also raise a call to action. The action demanding a continuous authentic partnership with young people in the commonwealth in order to better understand their needs and to ensure that we are serving them to the best of our ability. 

I believe it is every single person’s duty to rise to this call of action. It takes a village to raise a child. We are that village; Kentucky is that village. From a quote I was once heard: A child who is not embraced by that village will burn it down to feel its warmth.

Together we stand, divided we fall.

Once again, thank you all for being here, I hope you feel empowered and excited to see what today and the future of the commonwealth holds.