Community//

Social Impact Heroes: “How Mary L. Pulido, Ph.D. of The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is helping to protect vulnerable children across the world”

Everyone in the community needs to take action if they think a child is at risk for abuse. Learn the signs and symptoms and how to make a report. Don’t be a bystander, thinking someone else is probably handling it. Every state has a hotline number where you can call to report your suspicions. The […]


Everyone in the community needs to take action if they think a child is at risk for abuse. Learn the signs and symptoms and how to make a report. Don’t be a bystander, thinking someone else is probably handling it. Every state has a hotline number where you can call to report your suspicions. The national hotline number is 1–800–4-A-CHILD.

Get involved in any child welfare cause that moves you. Child abuse happens in all socio- economic levels, cultures, ethnicities and family constellations. Nonprofits need community involvement to sustain their efforts. Volunteer. Support their work.

Advocate for government funding for prevention programs for children. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. After the abuse occurs, the medical and mental health costs for treatment and the downward trajectory that a child can experience are astronomical. Making programs like Safe Touches available to all school children in K-3 is a win-win for prevention efforts, but it takes committed funding streams to enable this to happen.


As part of my series about “companies and organizations making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary L. Pulido, Ph.D. Mary is the Executive Director of The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (The NYSPCC), the first child protection agency in the world. She has held senior management positions at the Child Protection Center of Montefiore Medical Center (a Child Advocacy Center), the Children’s Village, and Covenant House/Under 21. Dr. Pulido is a member of the Medical Reserve Corps of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She serves on the National and New York State Chapter Boards of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) and is Chair of their Public Policy Committee. She is also a member of the World Childhood Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee. In 2006, Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Dr. Pulido to the New York City Child Fatality Review Team (CFRT), where she served until 2015. The protocol she developed for crisis debriefing following child fatality and critical incidents is utilized throughout the New York City Child Protective Services system today. Dr. Pulido is currently a principal investigator on a project to design a child sexual abuse prevention curriculum for elite Olympic gymnasts, coaches, and parents following the child sexual abuse scandal involving Larry Nassar, funded by the Athlete Assistance Fund. Dr. Pulido holds a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the City University of New York, and Master’s Degrees in Social Work from Hunter College and Teaching from Sacred Heart University. She is an adjunct Assistant Professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, where she recently received the 2019 “Trailblazer Award” for her accomplishments in the field of social work. She has published in the areas of detection and prevention of child abuse and neglect; providing supervised visitation services; crisis debriefing; child sexual abuse prevention; and preventing secondary traumatic stress. Dr. Pulido has been featured on WNBC, The New York Daily News, NY1, WPIX-TV, ABC News, cbsnews.com, and Inside Edition, and she is a dedicated blogger on issue of child protection for Huffington Post and Medium.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Mary! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As a child, my mother, Lorraine, who was a nurse and cared deeply for the health and safety of children, gave me the monthly newsletters from Covenant House to read about how they were helping homeless children and we talked about how perhaps one day, I could work there. I grew up wanting to be a social worker. Her sister, my Aunt Barbara, was a social worker for child protective services. One day when I was visiting her, she was on a phone call with work. I recall overhearing her discussion about a young child who she rescued who was found tied up with a venetian blind cord and beaten. I was shocked that someone could do that to a child and thought she was a superhero by saving her. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. And, in the late 1980’s, I relocated to New York City to work for Covenant House and attended Hunter College School of Social Work to obtain my Masters Degree in Social Work.

Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?

We are making significant progress towards protecting children from child sexual abuse. Currently, the statistics show that one in five children will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. The average age when a child experiences abuse is about eight years old, so it’s critical to teach them prevention at a young age. These are hard topics, and often uncomfortable, so it can be hard to find the right place and time for these difficult conversations.

To help address this, a few years after taking over The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (The NYSPCC), I worked with my clinical team to develop a puppet show, Safe Touches, to teach little children (K-3) about child sexual abuse prevention. The program started out in NYC public schools, as we were usually contacted following a case of child sexual abuse, to come in and teach the children prevention concepts. We started out small and local, serving a few hundred children a year. But, as a social worker, I always had nagging questions: do the children really understand the concepts about what parts of their body are private; who is allowed to touch them and why; who can they tell if they are upset; OR, do they simply like the puppets? I was fortunate to land a grant through the National Institutes of Health, to conduct a randomized controlled trial in the NYC public school system. And, I found that they DO understand these concepts and they DO retain this knowledge later on. This was a huge breakthrough for the prevention field. Our program has reached almost 40,000 children in NYC and thousands more as it’s replicated in the United States and most recently throughout the country of Greece. It’s been one of the highlights of my career to see this critical prevention program flourish!

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?

One story that stays with me concerns a donor of The NYSPCC who supports our Safe Touches program. She told me that as a child, she was repeatedly sexually abused by a relative. She wished that there had been a Safe Touches program in her life that would have helped her understand that it was wrong of that adult to touch her, and how to tell another adult about her feelings of distress. She didn’t disclose the abuse until after he died due to her fears. She promotes our work so that children will have this safety knowledge.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The past 18 years have been chock full of interesting stories, so here are a few highlights.

  • Landing a Project Liberty Grant to provide mental health services to children and adults who experienced the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The NYSPCC is located three blocks below the former World Trade Center. I should have attended my first Board meeting for The NYSPCC that day, but due to the attacks, it was postponed. I took over the agency on September 20, 2001, after our building was declared structurally sound. Working in a war zone, with no phones/fax/computers and staff who were impacted, was a challenge I will never forget.
  • Honoring Barbara Bush in 2002, at The NYSPCC’s first gala in its 144 year history — and surpassing our fundraising goal!
  • Listening to Nelson Doubleday and Elbridge T. Gerry Jr. (Ebby) tell stories about their past work at The NYSPCC at the annual holiday dinners at the 21 Club. Nelson was on our Board for 40 years and Ebby, whose ancestors founded The NYSPCC, is still on our board as an Honorary Director, fifty-nine years and counting!
  • Being appointed to the NYC Child Fatality Review Advisory Team by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, where I served for 10 years, delving into the causes of deaths that are preventable among children and then recommending action steps to the City Council to STOP these fatalities.
  • Traveling to Greece to train the staff of ELIZA (Greece’s society for the prevention of cruelty to children) and their psychologists in our Safe Touches curriculum. It has now reached thousands of children in that country!
  • Landing a contract to develop a child sexual abuse prevention curriculum for elite Olympic gymnasts and their parents and coaches, following the Larry Nassar scandal. It’s funded by the Athlete Assistance Fund and is critical to changing the culture that permitted this horrific abuse to flourish unabated.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Everyone in the community needs to take action if they think a child is at risk for abuse. Learn the signs and symptoms and how to make a report. Don’t be a bystander, thinking someone else is probably handling it. Every state has a hotline number where you can call to report your suspicions. The national hotline number is 1–800–4-A-CHILD.
  2. Get involved in any child welfare cause that moves you. Child abuse happens in all socio- economic levels, cultures, ethnicities and family constellations. Nonprofits need community involvement to sustain their efforts. Volunteer. Support their work.
  3. Advocate for government funding for prevention programs for children. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. After the abuse occurs, the medical and mental health costs for treatment and the downward trajectory that a child can experience are astronomical. Making programs like Safe Touches available to all school children in K-3 is a win-win for prevention efforts, but it takes committed funding streams to enable this to happen.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

The ability to influence and inspire people to be the best that they can be — and to be able to provide the resources that they need to flourish in their careers. I also believe it means having the courage to surround yourself with diverse staff who know more than you do in their area of expertise and then let them teach you. For example, I couldn’t run The NYSPCC without my amazing Senior Management Team, who are experts in their various fields of legal services in child protection, trauma recovery therapies, quantitative research, designing interactive training programs and raising money!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started “ and why.

I’m not sure if, at this point in my career, I can recall things I wish I’d known — I’ve been doing this a long time! I’d instead like to offer some advice of my own, if I can:

  • Build your Board of Directors on a consistent basis. Keep your Nominating Committee active. Board members are critical for the success of your philanthropic efforts and provide expertise in areas of finance, public relations, legal issues, real estate and development. They have important connections to the community that can keep your mission moving forward.
  • Don’t worry about being liked by your staff, worry about being fair and holding people accountable to the same standards. I have learned that you can’t bend the rules for one person, if you can’t do it for everyone. This can range from changing a schedule for someone to make it into work on time with childcare issues (doable), to not completing needed clinical assessments on schedule for clients (not doable). Whatever accommodations you make, be prepared to ensure you can fairly implement them for your staff across the board.
  • Never scrimp on healthcare benefits for your staff. Negotiate hard for the best package you can afford. It’s a critical resource for non-profit staff members. It can make or break job offers. I’ve been able to recruit and retain staff due to having an excellent benefits package.
  • This is not a dress rehearsal. (One of my favorite sayings.) When you are dealing with children’s lives, you must give it your “all” all of the time. There are no “do-overs”. Every day and all of your actions count. Make them the best and most effective they can be.
  • You will need to fundraise every single day. Having been a Development Director for 10 years early in my career, it serves me well. Running a nonprofit agency means that you are constantly submitting grants, cultivating donors, meeting with government officials, asking for donations and figuring out how to motivate and energize your supporters. And, make sure that they know how much you appreciate their generosity, advice and support. You certainly couldn’t do it without them!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That every single child would receive child sexual abuse prevention education, every year, starting in kindergarten. In order for us to stop this horrific abuse, we need to talk about it to children and make it an “okay” subject for discussion. It would also be wonderful if every pediatrician could incorporate body safety language/lessons into their routine child check-up visits. We teach children about bike/helmet safety, crossing the street safety, fire safety and water safety. Body safety must be a priority lesson for all children as well.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One that I am particularly fond of is “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” by Gandhi. This holds your standards and actions to a higher level all the time — and not just at work. It covers all actions — ranging from holding the elevator doors open for someone to get in, when you are crabby and just want them to close so you can get home, to not letting racist or harassing remarks go unaddressed, to stopping to help a disabled or elderly person cross the street in New York City so they don’t get run over. It serves to hold me accountable for always fighting for those whose voices are not heard, so that they have a seat at the table, so that their concerns become our concerns, so that I am never complacent about injustice. It’s a goal to aspire to, to strive for. We need these types of reminders. I have a plaque in front of my computer with this quote on it, so I can read it every day.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love to have a private meeting with either Oprah or Ellen. They both have tremendous reach and influence. As survivors of child abuse, their support for prevention activities to protect children would be truly pivotal in promoting The NYSPCC’s agenda to make this world a safer place for children. Please do tag them!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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