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The Karabelle Pizzigati Initiative in Advocacy for Children, Youth and Families

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The Karabelle Pizzigati Initiative in Advocacy for Children Youth and Families builds a pipeline of informed, effective advocates to ensure all children are healthy, safe, learning and joyful.

Unfortunately, in the United States today, that is not the case for millions of young people:

• A little more than 20 percent of children in the U.S. live in poverty

• Only 1 in 6 eligible children receive child care assistance and 1 in 5 families with children who are eligible receive housing assistance.


More than 12 million children in America live in food insecure homes.

The late Karabelle Pizzigati spent her career striving to change that reality by empowering champions for children with the policy skills to make a lasting impact.

The University of Maryland established the Pizzigati Initiative in her honor, to expand the ranks of informed, skilled advocates dedicated to promoting the well-being of children, youth and families. Involving academics and advocates from across the state, this landmark effort features a robust agenda in teaching, professional development and applied research:   

A Boost for Children

Karabelle Pizzigati's legacy will continue through a new $3 million gift from the Pizzigati family that will further expand opportunities for University of Maryland students who want to build careers in child and family advocacy. 

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Faculty Commentary: Children and Families Deserve a Permanent Stimulus

It’s not a temporary crisis for millions of children and families – now is the time to enact permanent solutions.

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Pizzigati Institute Prepares 2019 Cohort

The two-day training equipped professionals from across the region to advocate for children, youth and families.

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In collaboration with the School of Public Health, we are preparing future advocacy leaders who will work to end inequities for children, youth and families. Students have access to expert faculty from across the University, national and state advocates. Students are prepared to work or intern in nonprofits or government agencies, fully equipped with the practical knowledge to engage effectively in the public policy processes that shape our children’s future.

The Karabelle Pizzigati Initiative in Advocacy for Children Youth and Families produces research to support advocates in the field and resources for faculty.

Reflections and Recommendations from Interviews with Eight Early Childhood Education Policy Leaders of Color: Why Is Everyone at the Policy Tables So White?
As one of the interviewees for this paper stated, “we need a reckoning” on the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the early childhood policy workforce and on the critical need to adopt a racial equity approach to the policy and advocacy work. As the United States becomes a minority-majority country, there is an even greater urgency to ensuring that the policies for children, families, and communities address head on the structural and institutional conditions that hold families and communities back from economic, education, and health success.
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Watch three early childhood policy leaders interviewed for the paper discuss "Why Is Everyone At the Policy Table So White", in a webinar hosted by the Chief State School Officers and offer recommendations for change at the individual, organizational and structural levels to create a diverse policy workforce. 
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School Readiness Tax Credit$: The Advocacy Efforts in Three States
This case study looks at the advocacy efforts that in Louisiana, Nebraska and Colorado that successfully led to school readiness tax credits to help finance quality, affordable early childhood education.
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Funding Our Future: Generating State and Local Tax Revenue for Quality Early Care and Education
This report is part of a long-term effort to ensure: 1) equitable access to high-quality early care and education for children 0-5 and their families; and 2) parity for the workforce for whom standards are rising but compensation falls woefully short of that of similar public school educators and other professionals.
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Taxing Sugary Beverages to Expand Prekindergarten: The Advocacy Lessons of Philadelphia and Santa Fe
This case study examines efforts by two localities to raise revenue to expand high-quality prekindergarten programs, including considerations about different policy landscapes, political leadership, message framing and advocacy capacity.
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Funding and policy decisions, are often made at the federal level, affecting mission-driven social services programs, from Medicaid to Head Start to SNAP. To ensure these decisions meet the needs of the nation’s children, youth and families, social service professionals must have a seat at the table. The advocacy training equips professionals in social service agencies and organizations to harness their rich expertise and experiences to engage in policy advocacy to improve the conditions that leave so many children and families on the margins.

What participants learn: 
Nationally recognized advocates lead workshops in:

  • Navigating federal policy-making and funding processes
  • Engaging in current policy debates and trends
  • Working across issue silos to advocate for the “whole child, whole family”
  • Creating and delivering effective messages for policymakers and the public
  • Connecting to a broader network of advocates

Who should apply:
Individuals working in social service agencies and organizations focused health and mental health, hunger and nutrition, early care and learning, and child welfare with attention to low-income families, immigrant families, and children of color should apply. Applicants must work in Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Delaware, or Pennsylvania. We strongly encourage applicants from diverse racial, ethnic, generational, gender, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Please check back for information on future programs.

Teaching Testimonials

Serena Saunders '20, a BA/MPP student in the School of Public Policy, credits a child and family policy advocacy course with igniting her passion for advocacy.

"I came into Professor Robinson's class with a working knowledge of advocacy through my work with a few nonprofits," says Serena, "but learning the theory of agenda-setting, mobilizing, and more under Professor Robinson's expertise opened up a whole new world for me."

"Professor Robinson is incredibly well-connected with practitioners in child and family policy advocacy and readily connected us with them," she adds. "Overall, this class cemented my interest in advocacy work and ensured that I have the knowledge, skills and connections to succeed."

Serena spoke this October at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new University of Maryland School of Public Policy building on campus. Serena turned heads with her poise and passion for inclusive social change, and spoke at length about the impact her coursework has had on her goals as a future policymaker.

The coursework had an equally powerful impact on Amyra Hasan '19, BA Government and Politics. Amyra had never come into contact with an education policy professional before enrolling in Professor Robinson's basic advocacy course.

"Her class showed me how the organizing strategies I learned through campus activism could be replicated to great success on a macro scale," says Amyra. "It was thanks to her final assignment, an op-ed, that I was able to get my first job out of college."

Amyra is now working as a policy associate at a Washington, D.C.based government relations firm that works with a variety of clients.

"One of our clients is National Migrant Head Start," notes Amyra, "I am excited to be working with them in the future!"

Raymond Nevo

"Understanding how to read, write and think about policy are very important skills, however, if you do not know how to advocate for it, your work is likely done in vain. Professor Robinson's course on advocacy taught me not only the importance of timely, concise written testimony, but the power of an authentic and persuasive oral testimony. I now work as the State Policy and Equity Advocate for the National Housing Trust where I advocate for equitable housing and energy policies for low-income families. I recently wrote and delivered my first oral testimony to members of the Maryland General Assembly with less than 48 hours’ notice. Had I not taken Professor Robinson's course, that job would've felt terrifying and impossible. But instead, I took a deep breath, remembered the steps and successfully delivered for my organization. It was beyond empowering to sit at that table and feel confident in what I was about to do and I have Professor Robinson to thank for that." -Raymond Nevo '20

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