Commencement 2015: Biographies - Suzin Bartley
It has been said that child abuse casts a shadow as long as a lifetime. As executive director of the Children’s Trust, you have ensured that this shadow does not fall over the children of Massachusetts. As you so eloquently put it, you aim to wrap “a protective quilt” around families by giving them the support they need to help their children thrive and succeed.
You manage hundreds of programs, educating parents about the importance of their children’s early development, and teaching them how to foster a healthy emotional environment for themselves and their children.
Your work has helped prevent child abuse. And it has had a demonstrable, positive impact on educational achievement, maternal and child health, family self-sufficiency, and the involvement of fathers in the lives of their children.
You empower families. In the words of one single mother, a recent immigrant: “I understood that I am worth something, that I have control over dreams that I want for my son and me.” Healthy families are essential to a productive and positive society. For your tireless and effective efforts to strengthen them, Tufts is proud to award you an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree.
SUZIN BARTLEY grew up in a family that placed great emphasis on the importance of helping others. Her grandfather, Francis Colpoys, was a state representative from South Boston in the early 1900s, so politics and the power of service were common discussion topics at the dinner table, as was the significance of community involvement. Bartley took those messages to heart.
Since 1992, she has served as executive director of the Children’s Trust, Massachusetts’ leading family support organization, working to develop, evaluate, and promote parenting education and coaching programs that improve the lives of children. Prior to the Children’s Trust, she practiced clinical social work as a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW), both in private practice and as a member of the clinical services team at the Judge Baker Children’s Center in Boston, among other childserving agencies. Bartley previously worked as a community organizer in Jamaica Plain and Dorchester.
After years of clinical social work, Bartley was clear that a great majority of her work with clients was focused on trying to heal damage that was done during childhood. When her husband gave her a newspaper advertisement seeking a director for an organization dedicated to preventing child abuse, she decided to take what she had learned clinically about the importance of a child’s early development and put it into practice, by keeping child maltreatment from happening in the first place. She applied for the job and has not looked back since.
“My goal is to work upstream and prevent damage from happening,” she says. “By partnering with parents in the earliest stages of parenting and raising the capacity of communities to wrap a protective quilt around families, we can not only decrease bad outcomes, but increase positive outcomes for kids and families.” She still carries in her briefcase the job posting that changed her life-and the lives of countless numbers of Massachusetts children.
Since her tenure at the Children’s Trust began, the organization has shown through rigorous evaluation that high-quality, evidence-based family support programs not only help prevent child abuse, they have a positive impact on educational attainment, maternal and child health, family self-sufficiency, and the involvement of fathers in the lives of their children.
Under Bartley’s leadership, the Children’s Trust now backs more than one hundred family support programs across Massachusetts and provides training and technical assistance to professionals who work with children and families in every corner of the state. The organization and its programs have been recognized as national models, including recently by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Center for the Study of Social Policy. Bartley has grown the organization from a two-person operation with a budget of $300,000 to a nearly 40-member staff managing a budget of $17 million, drawn from private, state, and federal funding.
In addition to her work at the Children’s Trust, Bartley has volunteered for numerous boards and organizations, ranging from the Dorchester Women’s Committee to the United Way of Massachusetts Bay’s Success by Six initiative. She is a founding member of the Upham’s Corner Health Center.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she trained at the Yale Child Study Center and earned a master’s degree from the Smith College School for Social Work, which presented her with its 2012 Day-Garrett Award for outstanding contributions to the profession.
She was an International Fellow in Applied Developmental Science at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University and was awarded an honorary doctorate in public administration by Curry College. She is an adjunct professor at Boston College and a member of the school’s social work advisory board. Bartley served on the Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Responsible Fatherhood and Family Support and, starting in 2002, the Cardinal’s Commission for the Protection of Children, where she was chair of the Public Policy Committee and the Education Committee. She was also chair of the legislative committee of the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds. Bartley is currently co-chairing the Massachusetts Legislative Task Force on the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.
People sometimes comment that Bartley’s work must be sad, but she flips that notion on its head. “I feel I’m lucky that my passion has taken me to the prevention of child abuse,” she says. “Because I know that we are making a difference in the lives of children upstream before anything bad happens.”
Bartley will receive an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree.