Kelly Hunt on what it takes to be an effective advocate for Bermuda’s vulnerable youth
After seven years at the helm of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, 46-year-old Kelly Hunt says she is still “learning something new every day.”
Hunt, who is also mother to “two beautiful daughters, Annalise and Laylah,” originally wanted to be an occupational therapist, but after working in substance-abuse counselling realised the importance of early intervention. “People who have unaddressed trauma in their past can fall into self-destructive patterns, but healing is a real and life-altering possibility they need help with,” she explains.
One of the many things she has learned throughout her career is that “everyone just wants to be seen,” particularly children. “Children only need one, consistent, safe adult in their lives to see them for who they are. Bearing witness to someone’s story or emotions is crucial and can make a huge difference in the trajectory of a person’s life.” Described by her colleagues as passionate, fair, kind and generous, Hunt is motivated by realism and optimism: “I like to look at the facts and then hope for improvement when something needs to change.”
In terms of positive changes she herself has overseen, Hunt is particularly proud of the Coalition’s evolving programmes and initiatives, as well as the holistic approach they offer. Current services include a walk-in crisis intervention centre with life coaching and triage, grocery support for struggling families, and an educational fund for caregivers looking to improve their skills. The Coalition also facilitates two school-based programmes: Speak Up, Be Safe, which is a child-abuse prevention programme, and their breakfast programme, which provides thousands of breakfasts for hundreds of students throughout the school year.
Another important part of the Coalition’s work is to advocate on behalf of Bermuda’s children and Hunt is pleased with “some clear advancements made in Bermuda’s legislation and policies.” However, she hopes the island will ultimately become compliant with the Lanzarote Convention. Formerly known as the Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, the Lanzarote Convention requires criminalisation of all kinds of sexual offences against children and, she explains, “would mean a more child-friendly justice system and conventional rights of the child.”
Born and raised in Bermuda, Hunt has travelled widely for school and work, attending high school in Connecticut and college in South Carolina, before doing exchanges in Costa Rica and Venezuela. Post-graduate work took her to Canada. Hunt believes that “meeting new people and experiencing new cultures is not only exciting but teaches us more about ourselves.” People who inspire her are those with the courage to “go out on a limb for others,” who have “stood for justice” and who “speak up for the vulnerable when it’s not necessarily popular to do so.”
Working with vulnerable children is hard, but Hunt believes in the importance of less judgement and more empathy. The flip side of that she admits, however, is that “it is difficult to hear of the tragedies that some young people experience. I don’t know if I’ll ever overcome the emotions they give rise to, but I have learned to hang up my keys when I get home. My keys represent the day’s burdens which I park for the night knowing I will resume driving again in the morning.”