A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Kentucky youth say ‘Listen to us!’ — and hear us about decisions made about our futures

By Jordan Joslin, Kori Wheeler, and Kirsten Yancy
Kentucky Youth Advocates

As the November midterm elections have come to a close, Kentuckians are now looking ahead to the 2023 Kentucky General Assembly and Governor’s race. Voters will make their way to the polls next November, and we – Kentucky’s youth – are relying on those same voters to keep us top of mind when casting their ballots.

While kids cannot vote, one thing is certain – we have a lot to say when it comes to decisions being made about our futures. But mainly: LISTEN TO US.

In the 2022 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book, young people from across the Commonwealth shared their hopes and concerns with Kentucky Youth Advocates, mentioning the importance of mental health, safe communities, and caring adults.

Jordan Joslin, Bullitt County: 

Jordan Joslin

“One quote that stands out to me from the data book is from Kyleigh from Menifee County, who says, ‘Mental health is hard. Kids need breaks. Kids are so strong and capable of so much, but they are also going through a lot.’

“I know personally during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a struggle seeing family and friends around me worried about money and where their next meal would come from. I was always stressed about so many things. And–as Kyleigh said–I just wanted a break.

“Having an adult in your life that you can always trust and talk to when you need to is great. Please remember that we need you. Kids and teens need you.”

Kori Wheeler, Jefferson County: 

Kori Wheeler

“All children deserve supportive families and strong communities with equal opportunities to thrive. Kids also deserve a second chance when they make a mistake at a young age such as access to a diversion program or other community resources without being stuck in the juvenile justice system.

“As Ty Aiera of Jefferson County says in the book, ‘state leaders should help make all kids feel safe, loved and respected.’ They can do that by ensuring kids have safe spaces in their community to hang out and to just be kids and positive opportunities.”

Kirsten Yancey, Graves County:

“What is most talked about among high schoolers, and even middle schoolers, in my county is mental health. Recently, my classmates have dealt with COVID-19 and the tornado last December back-to-back. This has caused storm anxiety and feeling unable to miss school, lest they fall behind. It has a big impact on mental health, which is a nation-wide issue.

Kristen Yancy

Elizabeth from Daviess County says, ‘Mental health should be a big priority. As someone that has anxiety and it affects me everyday not just mentally but also physically, it is the best feeling knowing that people really care about me and the way I feel.’”

The County Data Book features the latest data on 16 measures of child well-being, including at the county-level so individual communities can track how kids are doing in health, education, economic security, and in the family and community context. The data shows improvements in child poverty (19%), though there are too many kids across Kentucky going hungry and experiencing homelessness. Test scores in reading for fourth graders (46%) and in math for eighth graders (36%) are also falling behind.

Kentucky kids deserve better.

As you begin thinking about the 2023 legislative session and who you will vote for next November in the election for governor, ask yourself: how will I prioritize kids and families?

As Alexis from Breckenridge County says, “Helping kids is often easier than it seems.”

We ask you not to just read the data and insight from Kentucky’s young people found in this data book. But rather, listen and then use it to inform your advocacy for all kids in 2023.

Access the 2022 KIDS COUNT County Data Book, county data profiles, and the data dashboard featuring state data from the report disaggregated by race/ethnicity at www.kyyouth.org/kentucky-kids-count/.

Jordan Joslin is a 10th grade student from Bullitt County and Kirsten Yancy is a 12th grade student from Graves County and both are members of the Health Youth Ambassadors. Kori Wheeler, young adult from Jefferson County, a graduate from YouthBuild Louisville and a member of REFORM.Lou.

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