news & perspectives

news & perspectives

shifting our perspective on "keeping kids safe"


The following are Children's Trust Executive Director Suzin Bartley's remarks at our Evening of Promise: Gala to Benefit Families, honoring Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, November 14, 2015.

Good evening.

Welcome and THANK YOU for being here.

I’d like to recognize: the terrific staff of the Children’s Trust who put this great event together; the Children’s Trust Board  of Directors for their support; and  Boston Scientific and Gilbane for your sponsorship tonight.

Mayor Walsh, thank YOU for your long-time support of our work and your commitment to children.

It has been a very sad year for many children in our state. Each incident of child abuse breaks our hearts, and makes us wonder, “What could have been done differently?”

Well, what if I told you that, indeed, there is something that can be done. We KNOW how to prevent child abuse.  And all of YOU can help.  In fact, you are already helping by being here tonight.

If you’ll bear with me, I’m going to tell you part of my own story.  

Twenty five years ago, I was a clinical social worker consulting with the Department of Children and Families - doing mental health assessments and treatment.

It was tough work. By the time I was working with families, the damage already had been done. I had to face the reality that sometimes I couldn’t make it better - or even OK – for the children.

I had a very painful experience working with a family that I thought was making steps in the right direction. Instead, I learned that abuse had continued …… I was crushed.

I came home and said to my husband, “I can’t do this anymore!” I expected him to give me a pat on the back, but instead he said “Great” &  handed me the Globe help wanted section!

And then some little miracle happened. I found an ad… I still have it... “Looking for an Executive Director to develop strategies for child abuse prevention.”

“PREVENTION” - Whoa!!! Developing strategies for prevention!

What a shift! Preventing the harm before it happened. It forever changed my work.

Suzin Bartley and the ad that changed her life

To quote Frederick Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

To me, the choice is clear.  All of us want to keep kids safe.

And yet, with each tragic story, public attention is focused solely on what went wrong with DCF.

And, don't misunderstand: that is critical work.

But, if Frederick Douglass was right, we miss an opportunity when we fail to also see the possibilities of prevention.

What I didn’t know 25 years ago was that it was possible to prevent child abuse. Now, I KNOW that WE CAN PREVENT IT.

That is the mission of the Children’s Trust.

We do it by working with parents well before they become overwhelmed and reach the breaking point.

We develop, fund and manage a range of parent education and family support programs that help parents.

The good news is that, by doing this, we not only prevent bad outcomes, like child maltreatment, but we also increase GOOD outcomes for kids and families.

In fact, a rigorous evaluation by Tufts University of our Healthy Families program proved just that. The program decreases young parents’ use of corporal punishment and lowers risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use. It ALSO dramatically increases Mom’s educational achievement, AND keeps those young dads connected to their babies.

Another way we help families succeed is through our funded Family Centers – places where any parent can go to learn and grow.  Before participating, less than 1/3 of parents said they knew how to discipline their kids effectively.  But after participating, over 90% of those parents said they came away with a range of new skills and options.

I spoke with one of our dads recently. He told me that, for his family, the Family Center was “life-changing.” He said, “If it wasn’t for the Family Center, the groups, the people, we would still be blindly trying to do what we thought was right and not realizing we were taking steps in the wrong direction. We had no support.”

Our Family Centers provide that support.

We partner with parents to help them get connected to resources, learn critical parenting skills, and build a network of people whom they can count on.

I hope that tonight serves as an “Aha!” moment that shifts your thinking – just like mine did when I read that ad years ago.

We don’t have to wait until families are broken and isolated, and children are being hurt.  

If you take only one thing away tonight, please leave knowing that we can prevent child abuse.

So the next time this issue comes up at the watercooler and it will, you can say, “But did you know there are programs proven to prevent child abuse right here in Massachusetts!” 

YOU can help change the conversation. You can shift it from “What went wrong?” to “We can prevent it from happening.”

Thank you very much for being here tonight.

Let’s go out and change the conversation to prevention and keep kids safe!