“I want everybody to be a children’s advocate,” said Associate Clinical Professor Brandi Slaughter in the School of Public Policy. “Kids are lost in the discussion. They don’t have lobbyists like the AARP. They don’t vote. But they deserve advocates that are just as trained.”

As director of the Karabelle Pizzigati Fellows Initiative in Advocacy for Children, Youth and Families
since 2021, she’s equipping undergrads from across the University of Maryland with the skills to get heard, supported and funded in the crowded halls of Congress. They are placed with a children’s advocacy organization, where they receive a stipend for working 120 hours, and take a policy class that teaches everything from data analysis to how to engage families, policymakers and nonprofit organizations.

Slaughter draws on her own experiences. Her family used public assistance when she was young, and after college, she returned to her home state of Ohio to serve families in need. She started out running an after-school program for high-risk youth at settlement houses before earning a law degree and pivoting to policy, working for legislators and advocacy groups.

“Kids only have one childhood. We have to make sure we are providing programs, systems, investments to ensure that childhood is the best that they can have. Because we know on the other end what happens if we don’t,” said Slaughter. Abuse and neglect, parental substance use and domestic violence are linked to chronic health problems, substance use issues and more in adulthood, stunting educational and work opportunities.

Slaughter shares how a snowy fall led to her career as a children’s champion, why she takes the fellows to a Terps women’s basketball game every year and the galvanizing speech from a century ago that still resonates with her.