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Children’s champion

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New head of N.C. Child Advocacy Institute brings experience, passion. 

By Ret Boney

RALEIGH, N.C. — When Barbara Bradley was eight years old, riding along with her father while he sold car insurance in Kansas City, Mo., she wondered why she had trees, grass and play equipment at home while many of the inner-city children did not.

“When we bring children into the world, we make an unspoken promise,” she says.  “And we need to make sure our promises are kept.  All children should have the same benefits.”

It’s a goal she has worked toward for more than 30 years, and she will continue that effort as the new executive director of the North Carolina Child Advocacy Institute, a statewide nonprofit that works for the fair treatment of children and youth.

Bradley was appointed in September and will start her new job October 4.

“She has a real passion about her commitment, very creative thinking,” says Margaret Arbuckle, chair of the institute’s board and head of the search committee. “She has deep experience in building and working with coalitions, and that’s very critical in child advocacy work.”

Bradley began her career as a city planner in Wichita, Kan., where neighborhood planning opened her eyes to several issues she says are critical to children’s well-being, including housing, employment for parents, health care, migrants arriving with no preparation and inner-city schools that weren’t up to par.

After working in medical research and health services, then staying home with her own children for five years, Bradley worked with a teenage pregnancy-prevention coalition and eventually received a grant to start the first school-linked health clinic in Kansas, a facility that was across the street from the high school and charged only $5 for students.

Barbara Bradley

Job:  Executive director, North Carolina Child Advocacy Institute

Education:  B.S., sociology, masters in regional and community planning, Kansas State University

Birth date:  1950, Kansas City, Missouri

Family:  Son, 24; daughter, 20

Hobbies:  Reading, gardening, hiking, canoeing

Recently read:  “Truman,” by David McCullough

Book to recommend:  “For Those I Loved,” by Martin Gray

Inspiration:  Grandmother, Cora Stratton: “Until the day she died, she gave great comfort to me.  I knew she cared about me.”

She then focused on gang violence, working with law enforcement, community corrections and school administrators to develop a strategic plan to address violence throughout the county.

“One on one, kids are still kids,” she says.  “Most kids do not want to be on the street.  They don’t want that sort of life, but they don’t now how to get out.”

While riding with a police gang unit one evening, she arrived at an intense and violent domestic scene involving a mother and father, when their eight-year-old daughter looked at Bradley and said, “Lady, get me out of here.”

“That’s been a real motivation to me,” she says.  “There are so many children that need someone to get them out of the situation they’re in, and there are thousands more who need better chances.”

Bradley then moved to Washington, D.C. to work for children at the national level, first as a consultant helping build the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, a group of member organizations that grew to about 4,000 during her tenure.

She then joined the national office of Communities in Schools, a nonprofit that locates community services within local schools, and later worked for the United Way of America as vice president of the Mobilization for America’s Children, where she oversaw all national initiatives that address children and their families.

Prior to accepting the position at the N.C. Child Advocacy Institute, Bradley was vice president for community development with America’s Promise – The Alliance for Youth, a network of 300 coalitions throughout the U.S. that work to improve the lives of children and their families.

“It’s one thing to teach people how to do the work,” she says.  “It’s another to do the work yourself.  That’s one reason I wanted to leave the national scene.”

Bradley says she has been following the work of the institute for some time and has long wanted to move to North Carolina, where she has a lake house in the far western part of the state.

As head of the institute, Bradley hopes to find ways to provide access to health care for all North Carolinians, especially immigrant children who have little or no access the health care system.

She will also be analyzing the state’s county-level data on child maltreatment and fatalities, to determine where the problems are and how they might better be addressed.

Education will be a priority as well, Bradley says, including monitoring the state Supreme Court decision requiring that all North Carolina children be afforded an equal opportunity to a sound basic education, and looking at alternative educational opportunities for children who have been kicked out of school.

“The appeal can be made to anybody,” says Bradley.  “If you’re concerned about the survival of our rural communities, you need to vote for children.  If you’re concerned about your health care premiums, vote children.  If you want to have good employees, vote children.”

“And yet at the national level, you can see now, children have become even less of a priority on the political agenda,” she says.  “So it’s our job at the state level to make sure kids stay at the political forefront.”

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