While too many children and families live in poverty and struggle to meet basic needs, the work of policy advocates has brought positive changes for millions in our country who now have access to affordable health care, child care, quality education, nutrition, disabilities services, and housing. To move a robust equity agenda forward for all children and families, we need to expand the number of individuals who are informed, effective policy advocates at every level of decision-making.
The University of Maryland is taking on this challenge through the Pizzigati Initiative for Children, Youth and Families, made possible by a generous gift from the family and friends of the late advocate Karabelle Pizzigati. It has been almost two years since the initiative launched, and I am energized by the enthusiasm among students, faculty, advocates, and organizers on this campus and around the country for this important work. So many people have provided insightful advice as we grow this advocacy pathway for people who work now or will join social service agencies, policy think tanks, government agencies, and advocacy organizations committed to improving the lives of families and children.
To date, our work has focused in three key areas: teaching, training, and research.
Child and Family Policy Advocacy Impact Coursework
Students are passionate about ending the economic disparities faced by low-income children and families and rectifying inequities related to race, immigrant status, sexual identity, or disability. But this passion needs a direction - many students are eager to make a difference, but don’t know how. We’ve introduced a new course (which has been offered for two semesters) to provide students with the skills to be critical thinkers about data, policy analysis, and advocacy communication. Students learn not only about major federal programs like Medicaid, Head Start, SNAP and housing assistance, but how to research a policy problem and present a policy solution through grassroots alerts, advocacy handouts, and oral and written testimony.
Your Voice, Their Future – Karabelle Pizzigati Training Institute in Advocacy for Children, Youth and Families
Karabelle Pizzigati believed deeply that those who work in mission-driven social services have enormous potential to impact public policies using their rich experience and expertise. The Your Voice, Their Future advocacy training provides workshops, webinars, and connections to help these dedicated individuals engage in policy advocacy not only to improve programs and services but to change the conditions that leave so many children and their families floundering.
Our first Institute brought together 18 individuals from five states working in hunger, early childhood, child welfare, mental health, and juvenile justice organizations, to engage in workshops led by many of the nation’s leading advocates. Participants focused on the importance of advocacy across “silos” and they deepened their advocacy skills through sessions on framing messages, hosting policymakers at program sites, and meeting with legislators. We continue to support this cohort with peer networking opportunities and advocacy resources. We are planning a second institute to be held in 2019.
A Deeper Understanding of Effective Advocacy – We are committed to researching what advocacy efforts and tools are yielding the greatest success and sharing best practices that advocates can learn from and apply to their work in various policy and political landscapes. We also strive to provide resources to help faculty who are creating lessons or whole courses on advocacy in the context of social work, public health, law, education, communications and public policy schools. By drawing on the expertise of faculty across campus and working in partnership with other institutions and organizations, we aim to provide this technical assistance and framework for understanding the policy landscape. Our first resource is a case study comparing how Philadelphia and Santa Fe pursued a tax on sugary beverages to fund the expansion of pre-kindergarten programs.
As we move into our third year, we are reflecting on what has worked well and where we may deepen or our efforts, or take a slightly different tack, in our teaching, training, and research activities. We invite you to help us reach our potential to build the cadre of advocates who will influence the policies and funding to ensure every child and family can thrive. Please see below for more information about how you can help, or contact me at email@example.com.
Adele Robinson, Karabelle Pizzigati Endowed Professor in Advocacy for Children, Youth and Families Clinical Professor, School of Public Policy & School of Public Health Department of Family Science