Julie has 14 years of experience in documentary film and video production, and has contributed to content ranging from small passion projects to large scale, multimillion-dollar programming for online, television and cable broadcast, and theatrical distribution. She is a Lone Star Emmy-winning producer of the Mental Health Channel’s 12-part series, Stories of the Mind. Julie’s work has centered around cause-driven content with a focus on positive social impact and effective communications. Julie received her BA in Fine Arts from Sewanee (the University of the South), and earned her MBA from Wake Forest University School of Business, where she focused on Marketing and Social Enterprise. She is grateful for the opportunity to put her unique combination of experience and education to good use at the Institute. Julie lives in Austin with her family and serves on NAMI Austin’s Board of Directors.
Betty Armao has extensive knowledge of business and operational procedures and brings 25 years of experience with commercial real estate, property management, health care, education, media relations, publishing, software solutions, global communications, and civil engineering. Prior to joining MMPHI, Betty provided C-level support at NFI Intermodal, PO’B Montgomery & Company and UT Southwestern Medical Center. She also attended the University of South Florida with a concentration in Business Administration. At MMHPI Betty provides high- level support to the executive MMHPI team and manages administrative operations for the Institute.
Allison Castle, president of Castle Communications, has a career that spans the worlds of business, government, nonprofits and politics. Allison previously served as a senior advisor to the Governor, Attorney General and Comptroller, and at the Texas Department of Insurance. Allison directly advised Gov. Rick Perry for more than six years in her role as his press secretary and communications director. She crafted and guided the execution of a strategy that gained global attention for the Governor’s priorities, ranging from health care and public safety to establishing Texas as a biotech hub. She and her team garnered untold volumes of coverage for the state’s successful economic development efforts to bring global corporations and jobs to Texas. Focused and diligent in times of crisis, Allison has helped guide the state’s media response through everything from public health emergencies and natural disasters to the Governor’s Mansion arson, renovation and grand reopening. Allison and her team also deftly handled the media strategy, messaging and stakeholder engagement of some of the state’s most important legal cases before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Coby Chase, Vice President for External Affairs, has an extensive background in state and federal government affairs, communications, and coalition building. In his previous position with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), he oversaw the agency’s expansive state and federal portfolios, statewide communications operations, and international relations. He also oversaw the Texas Transportation Forum, one of the nation’s largest transportation conferences. Before TxDOT, Coby worked in government affairs for the Universities Research Association’s Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory and the Texas National Research Laboratory Commission. At MMHPI, Coby oversees governmental relations, communications, local systems work, Engage & Excel conferences, and the award-winning Okay to SayTM public awareness campaign. He’s a member of the College of Liberal Arts Advisory Council at The University of Texas at Austin and on the Board of Directors for the Austin Clubhouse.
Dr. Cline is president of ZiaPartners and a board-certified psychiatrist who served as the medical director of the Behavioral Health Services Division of the New Mexico Department of Health from 1998 to 2003, responsible for the public safety net indigent mental health and substance abuse treatment system in that state. She also has a masters in business administration with an emphasis in strategic development within organizations. Dr. Cline has experience with systemic implementation of integrated services across adult, older adult, and child and adolescent services systems.
Jena Crim has a varied and eclectic combination of experience with business and operational procedures, having worked in the travel industry, fine arts museum management, and higher education department management. Before joining Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, Jena served for ten years as executive assistant for the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. She has a BA in Art History from the University of Texas at Austin and has studied business administration and human resource management. Jena recently relocated to the Dallas area to be closer to her daughter and three growing grandsons.
Stephanie Cunningham works with the Communications team to support messaging for the Institute and its programs. Prior to joining the Institute, Stephanie worked for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Her time there began with management of statewide recycling programs, as well as assisting with mandatory reporting of waste diverted from industrial facilities, and culminated in managing the Texas Environmental Excellence Awards. The TEEA program, an annual statewide recognition program of the TCEQ Commissioners and the Governor’s Office, cultured her experience with inter- and intra-agency coordination along with communications, contract management, and event planning. Stephanie is a graduate of the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin where she focused heavily on undergraduate research in neuroscience within the division of Pharmacology and Toxicology, and was included as coauthor on three publications prior to graduation.
Kristina De Lattes is responsible for all areas relating to the Institute’s financial reporting. She has over 8 years of dynamic accounting experience. Kristina has worked in the client service industry managing a multitude of companies gaining a board knowledge and expertise in targeting specific business needs.
She is proficient in multiple accounting software platforms and applications. Kristina has knowledge of general, corporate and not-for-profit accounting, payroll, cash management. She has also assisted with the preparation of audits, tax work papers and tax returns.
Kristina is a graduate of Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting.
Estevan earned his Master of Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. During his time at The LBJ School, he worked with Texas CASA’s public policy and legislative advocacy division throughout the 85th Texas Legislative Session and interned in Washington, D.C. with U.S. Congressman Gene Green of Houston.
Estevan has a Bachelor of Arts in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from Rice University. After graduating from Rice, Estevan worked as a Healthcare Quality & Risk Analyst for Legacy Community Health before serving as the Senior Project Coordinator & Research Assistant on a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute award focused on patient decision making for artificial organs at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy.
Timothy Dittmer, PhD, is responsible for all econometric analysis for the Institute. He has consulted as an economist regarding behavioral health and human services for nearly a decade and just left his position as tenured chair of the Department of Economics at Central Washington University in January 2014. Dr. Dittmer is expert in applied economic analysis across a wide array of public policy domains including health care, and has worked with a wide range of econometric methods for estimating the cost-benefits for behavioral health and human services interventions.
His interests include veteran issues given his service in the United States Army and National Guard (1984-1992, 2001-2009) that included two tours in Iraq (2004-2005, 2008-2009) and award of the Combat Infantry Badge and Bronze Star.
Jennifer brings a background in policy, philanthropy, and public service to Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. Jennifer started her career in the Office of Governor George W. Bush and has spent the last decade in the nonprofit space building connections between public officials, foundations, and nonprofit organizations. Jennifer has served as the head of a private foundation and built the largest consortium of Texas foundations to ever work together on public policy. A proud product of public education, Jennifer grew up in Dallas and received her BA in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin and her M.P.Aff. from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
Over the past decade, Jennifer has volunteered in a number of capacities for a variety of nonprofits working in the fields of education and health and human services. Currently, she serves on the board of Texas Partnership for Out of School Time (TXPOST) and Communities in Schools of Central Texas. Jennifer lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and three young sons: Gabriel, Leo, and Mateo. She hopes to carry on the family tradition by inspiring her boys with the passion for nonprofit work and a commitment to public service.
Susan joined the Institute in 2018 as Executive Director of The Hackett Center for Mental Health and Vice President for the Gulf Coast Region. In this capacity, she is responsible for executing The Hackett Center’s purpose of translating policy into practice through her leadership of this permanent operating program of the Institute focused on the Southeast Texas Region.
Prior to joining the Institute, Susan served as President & CEO of Mental Health America of Greater Houston from 2011 through 2017. During her time there, the organization developed and expanded its programing for veterans’ services, school-based efforts, and increased its advocacy work for improving state-level mental health policy. Susan’s background is primarily in institutional strategy and advancement for medical centers and medical schools including U.T. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Rice University.
Jacqueline French manages grants and contract compliance for the Institute, and has an extensive background in grants management. In her previous role as grants administrator with Susan G. Komen, she coordinated peer review meetings, assisted applicants with RFA inquiries, and handled pre- and post-awards management. Prior to that, Jacqueline was a research project coordinator at the American Heart Association. Her professional experiences have given her a deep understanding of non-profit organizations as well as research grants policies, procedures, and protocol. Her work in the non-profit sector—ranging from domestic violence prevention advocacy, teen pregnancy prevention advocacy, abstinence education, and childcare assistance case management—has guided her passion for serving the community. Jacqueline is currently pursuing an associate of science degree from Northlake Community College.
Dr. Guzmán oversees the human resources, operations, and grants/contract management for the institute. She also leads policy evaluation for the Institute. Dr. Guzmán has provided leadership for the Institute’s grant writing efforts, behavioral health systems assessments, and workforce development. Dr. Guzmán received her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University at Albany, State University of New York, and her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Vassar College.
Sean Hanna, LAc, MAOM, spent eight and a half years—from 1991 to 2000—as a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman. While stationed at 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Sean deployed to multiple international locations and saw combat action in support of Operation United Shield, Somalia, in 1995. Since his military duty, Sean served as director of the Veterans Mental Health Program (VMHP) at the Texas Veterans Commission, where he worked with the Texas Department of State Health Services to co-create and coordinate the Military Veteran Peer Network throughout the state of Texas as part of the VMHP. Sean earned his Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine degree from the Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin (AOMA) in 2005, and is a lifetime member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #4443.
Michelle has 20 years of experience in health and human services research, policy and program operations. Previously she worked at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) where she spent over 10 years overseeing the operations for a number of social services programs and working on Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Texas Women’s Health Program policy. Michelle most recently served as HHSC’s Associate Commissioner for Community Access and Services connecting Texans to social services through partnerships with faith- and community-based organizations. While at HHSC, Michelle also served as the Deputy State Medicaid/CHIP Director for the Office of Policy where she oversaw the state plans, waivers and administrative rules, as well as the analysis and development of program and benefits policy. Michelle also served as a Government Relations Specialist and in several Policy Advisor roles during her tenure at HHSC. Michelle has worked for the Northern California Kaiser Permanente Health Plan analyzing legislation for the Health Plan and Hospitals and leading implementation projects for the Health Plan, the Consumers Union in San Francisco overseeing the Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools’ policy agenda for increasing school-based enrollment in health insurance, and Child Trends, a non-profit research organization in Washington, DC, working on health and human services research projects. Michelle has a bachelor’s degree from the Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
Tegan has a substantial background working in the public mental health system, both as a therapist and as a policy and program implementation specialist. Prior to joining the Institute, Tegan held several key positions within the Texas Health and Human Services System where she found her niche in system transformation efforts. Most recently she served as the manager of the NorthSTAR Services Unit, working in partnership with organizations in the Dallas area to redesign the infrastructure under which public mental health and substance abuse services are delivered. Tegan also had a leadership role in the 2012 redesign of the Texas Children’s Mental Health service delivery system, facilitating the statewide implementation of a behavioral health assessment tool for children and youth, as well as several evidence-based and promising practices. These experiences set the foundation for her to understand and help address the unique challenges faced by local organizations when implementing system changes. Tegan has a Master of Science in Child Development and Family Science (emphasis: Couple and Family Therapy) from North Dakota State University.
Nelson Jarrin is an attorney with an extensive background at the Texas Capitol. In his role with MMHPI, Nelson oversees legislative policy development and works with stakeholders, state legislative leaders, and key government officials to effect change that will have a positive impact on the delivery of mental health services in Texas.
Nelson previously served as the Legislative Director and General Counsel for Texas State Senator Charles Schwertner, where he managed the Senator’s legislative agenda and supervised all legislative activities of the office. There, he specialized in health-related legislation, Senate Finance Article II, and issues pending before the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services and the Senate Committee on Finance. During the 2014-2015 cycle, Nelson oversaw the Sunset Advisory Commission process for Senator Schwertner, which included a review of all state health agencies.
Prior to joining Senator Schwertner’s team, Nelson served as an attorney at the Texas Legislative Council, where he drafted legislation and provided legal advice for the members of the Texas Legislature. During his time at the Legislative Council, he drafted over 800 bills and amendments in the areas of health law, hospital law, occupational regulation, and criminal law.
Nelson received his J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Notre Dame Law School. During his time at Notre Dame, he served as the President of the Hispanic Law Students Association. He received a B.S. in Economics, summa cum laude, from Texas A&M University.
Calvonah began her career with the Institute as a Smart Justice intern in 2017 and continued in that role through the beginning of 2018. During her time as an intern, she created supporting materials for mental health, behavioral health, and criminal justice collaborates, provided research support for legislative interim study charges, and supported implementation of the Dallas County Caruth Smart Justice Project by developing technical assistance materials and providing data analysis.
Prior to her internship, Calvonah actively participated in student organizations and worked in various departments at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD). As a Research Assistant in the Criminology Department, Calvonah collected qualitative data to contribute to the first complete and standardized database of school shootings in the United States. Calvonah simultaneously served as President of both the Black Student Alliance and UTD’s chapter of the National Criminal Justice Honor Society (Alpha Phi Sigma). She was a distinguished panelist for the university’s Student State of Diversity and worked alongside other student leaders to develop and host the University’s first Community Conversations, an event featuring an interactive panel of criminal-justice officials aimed to educate students and encourage open dialogue about police-community relations. In recognition of her many contributions, Calvonah received the Leadership, Service and Academic Excellence Award from UTD’s Director of Multicultural Affairs.
Calvonah holds a Bachelor of Arts (Magna Cum Laude) and Master of Science Degree in Criminology. As a Smart Justice Project Assistant, Calvonah will continue to support work across the state aimed at reducing unnecessary justice involvement for persons living with behavioral healthcare needs.
Dr. Keller is a psychologist with more than 20 years of experience in behavioral health policy and is a recognized leader in health and human services integration, behavioral health financing, and implementation of empirically supported practices for adults and children. Dr. Keller was also a founding partner of TriWest Group, a national behavioral health systems consulting firm focused on human service evaluation, community collaboration and management. His work has centered on helping local systems implement evidence-based and innovative care, as well as helping local and state governments develop the regulatory and financial framework to support them. Prior to forming TriWest, Andy worked in Colorado at the health plan level with a leading Medicaid HMO and at the provider level with the Mental Health Center of Denver. He has directed and led a range of community-based programs, including assertive community treatment teams, adult and child outpatient clinics, school-based and early childhood programs, and specialty programs for older adults and Latino communities.
Peggy comes to the Institute with a background in children and family work. Prior to returning to school to earn her master’s degree, she worked as a paralegal for a family law attorney specializing in complex child custody and visitation cases, including court appointed cases. Peggy also worked with the Texas Office of the Attorney General with the Elder Law and Public Health Division prosecuting Civil Medicaid Fraud cases. Peggy is actively involved in public education and most recently worked for the Austin Independent School District with its Community Schools Initiative where she provided support to the administrative supervisor for the initiative.
Peggy earned her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University and her Master of Public Affairs degree from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin.
Carisa has more than a decade of experience in health and human services policy, with an extensive background in policy, data, and fiscal analysis. Prior to joining the Institute, she worked at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). For HHSC’s Medicaid and CHIP programs, Carisa held roles as manager of policy development and as senior advisor for the Office of Policy and the Medicaid/CHIP Chief Deputy Director. She also was senior advisor for the Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) program, which is the component of Texas Medicaid’s 1115 Transformation Waiver that awards funds to projects designed to improve healthcare access, quality, and outcomes.
Prior to HHSC, Carisa was a senior policy analyst and oversaw state budget reporting at the House Research Organization for the Texas House of Representatives. She received her bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and her Master of Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.
Ms. Martinez-Parham is based in El Paso, Texas, where her work focuses on best practice dissemination and translation, training, and evaluation regarding mental health services, child and family systems of care, and child welfare involved children and families. She has broad experience with culturally and linguistically competent models of care, evidence-based and best practices in the areas of child and family mental health, including wraparound, school-based, and early childhood models. Ms. Martinez-Parham is bilingual in English and Spanish and a licensed professional counselor in the state of Texas.
Dr. Mathias holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy, and is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor. With nearly 20 years of experience in both community social services and community mental health, she has served in various clinical and administrative capacities throughout her career. Her service throughout Texas has centered on the indigent, homeless, and underserved populations. In her clinical and programmatic development opportunities, Dr. Mathias has applied her focus to individuals living with serious mental illness, co-occurring substance abuse disorders, and physical medical conditions through evidence-based and innovative care. She has served, directed and led a range of community-based programs, including an innovative Super Utilizer project, homeless services programs, juvenile and adult forensic treatment and assessment, as well as provided the operational and clinical oversight for an inpatient mentally ill offenders rehabilitation center. Her concentration in program development has been in integrated, trauma informed, person centered treatment models while developing supervision/leadership models supporting the clinicians of these highly intense assertive treatment projects.
Dr. Mathias will be applying her expertise to transforming the assertive community treatment model in Texas as well as providing assessment and clinical implementation strategy to improving the local mental health systems. She looks forward to contributing to policy research that will evolve and expand the mental health care systems of Texas to serve all those in need.
Dawn McKeehan joined the Policy Institute with extensive experience in mental health among those involved in the criminal justice system. Dawn served in a number of impressive capacities at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, including Parole Officer, for which she supervised caseloads of 75 – 120 offenders including sex offenders, super intensive supervision (GPS and electronic monitoring), and the mentally ill. During her tenure with Texas Correctional Office on Offender with Medical and Mental Impairments (TCOOMMI), as a Program Specialist she provided contractual oversight to the 38 Local Mental Health Authorities throughout Texas. As their Continuity of Care Supervisor she facilitated and linked newly paroled offenders with special care needs to services in the community. In her final position there as Manager, she led a team of Program Specialists, facilitated Special Needs Offenders training to both juvenile and adult criminal justice partners, and worked on reviewing, revising and implementing new legislation. While proudly serving in the United States Air Force Dawn received her Master of Arts in Counseling from Webster University, and her Bachelor’s of Science in Management/Human Resources from Park University. Dawn received recognition for Academic Achievement graduating the top of her class in the Parole Academy. Further honors include Parole Officer of the Year (Governor’s Award), and Presidents Volunteer Service Award for the 4,000 plus hours Dawn served as a volunteer Victim Services Counselor with the Austin Police Department.
Marcellina is licensed in the states of Texas and Tennessee as a Professional Counselor. She is an experienced and passionate clinician who for the past 20 years has successfully navigated and worked within a variety of clinical systems: residential, in-home, outpatient and school-based. She has worked as a clinician, clinical supervisor, administrator, and trainer. For 16 years she worked for a Community Mental Health Center in their School-Based Program. During this time she was able to expand mental health services received by children at school within Davidson County as well as the Middle Tennessee region. Marcellina has extensive clinical training and specializes in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Trauma Focus- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Marcellina is a Certified SAMA (Satori Alternative to Managing Aggression) Facilitator as well as a CANS (Children Adolescent Needs Strength) Assessment Trainer. She has provided trainings to several school systems across Middle Tennessee.
Dr. Minkoff is a senior systems consultant with Zia Partners and a board-certified psychiatrist with a certificate of additional qualifications in addiction psychiatry. He is a dedicated community psychiatrist and currently a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is recognized as one of the nation’s leading experts on recovery-oriented integrated services for individuals and families with co-occurring mental health, substance use, and health conditions, plus other complex needs. He is also a leading national expert on the development of welcoming, recovery-oriented integrated systems of care.
Prior to joining the Institute, Kyle Mitchell served as the Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Veterans Commission – the state agency that supports Texas veterans and their families through its programs of claims assistance, employment services, education, and the Fund for Veterans Assistance.
Kyle joined the Texas Veterans Commission from the Office of Governor Rick Perry, where he served as a Governor’s Advisor in the Office of Budget, Planning and Policy. In that role he was responsible for military, veterans, criminal justice, and public safety issues.
Kyle is a native Texan who returned to Texas after serving the State of Florida in both the executive and legislative branches. He served as Special Counsel to the Secretary at the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. He also worked as a committee attorney for the Florida House of Representatives. Prior to his government service, Kyle worked at a law firm with a focus on representing clients before the Florida Legislature.
Kyle is a Major and Judge Advocate in the Texas Army National Guard. He is currently serving as the Brigade Judge Advocate for the 71st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade in San Antonio. He previously served the the Chief, Operational Law, for the 36th Infantry Division and in the United States Army Reserve.
Kyle’s passion is his beautiful and talented wife, Amy, and their precious son, Jack.
Lacrica Olson, MPA, joined the Policy Institute in June 2016. Prior to joining MMHPI, she served as the Community Impact Director for Health and Mental Health Initiatives at United Way of Denton County. There she was responsible for management and facilitation of a 34-member Behavioral Health Leadership Team, which formed in 2015 to guide system level change in Denton County.
Before moving to Texas, Lacrica worked for the Oklahoma State Department of Health as the Accreditation Coordinator for Cleveland and McClain County Health Departments, where she was responsible for public health accreditation and quality improvement. Other prior positions include, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services-Division of Aquaculture, Florida Department of Health, and Buffalo County Community Health Partners, in Kearney Neb.
Lacrica received her Master’s in Public Administration, and her Bachelor’s in Social Work from Florida State University and has significant experience as a trained facilitator with the development of grassroots partnerships to improve the health of local communities in the public and nonprofit sector.
Lacrica resides in Denton County with her daughter and serves on the Denton County Public Health Advisory Committee.
Kendal Perry, LMSW, works closely with the Senior Director of Evaluation and the policy team to support program planning and the coordination of evaluation projects conducted by the Institute.
Prior to joining the Institute, Kendal held a fellowship position as a Program Evaluation Fellow with the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. During the fellowship, Kendal assisted with grant program development, acted as a liaison to external evaluators, and worked with the evaluation unit to communicate the impact of foundation grant programs through reports and briefs based upon key evaluation findings. She completed a graduate-level practicum with the Texas Parents as Teachers program within Mental Health America of Texas, and an undergraduate field placement with the Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD Bea Salazar Alternative School. She is a member of the American Evaluation Association.
Kendal received her Master of Science in Social Work with a concentration in community and administrative leadership from The University of Texas at Austin, and graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of North Texas with her Bachelor of Social Work.
John Petrila was a member of the founding Board of the Policy Institute and is a committed member of our team. He is an attorney with 40 years of experience in mental health law and policy. Before joining MMHPI, he chaired the Department of Health Policy & Management at the University of South Florida College of Public Health. Prior to that he chaired the Department of Mental Health Law & Policy at the Florida Mental Health Institute where he built a department that worked extensively with administrative data to inform policy at the county and state level. He also was the first Director of Forensic Services in the Missouri Department of Mental Health and was Chief Counsel and Deputy Commissioner in the New York State Office of Mental Health.
He received his law degree and an advanced degree in mental health law from the University of Virginia School of Law. He is a national expert on data sharing and wrote the chapter on confidentiality for the 1999 Surgeon General’s report on mental health. He was a member of the John and Catherine MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Mandated Community Treatment and is past President of the International Association of Forensic Mental Health Services. In 2011 he was named a Fulbright Scholar to the Netherlands and taught and conducted research at the Forensic Psychology Program at Maastricht University.
Making a difference is what inspires Ms. Riley to work tirelessly with non-profit organizations to achieve transformational results in philanthropy. She has served for 30 years as an institutional advancement leader in healthcare, higher education and public broadcasting with significant results in fundraising campaigns, operations and financial management, donor stewardship, board relations and communications.
Prior to joining the Institute, Ms. Riley served as a Senior Consultant at Dini Spheris. Before beginning her consulting practice, she concluded the Faith in our Future Campaign for the University of St. Thomas raising $146M in its most ambitious campaign to date. Prior to this campaign, she served as the Vice President for Development at The Methodist Hospital System from 2007-2012, building the organization’s first strategic development program and completing its first major $200M fundraising campaign. Ms. Riley has also worked for the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Baylor College of Medicine, KUHT Channel 8 and KWGS 89.5. Cynthia earned her undergraduate degree from the Southern Methodist University, and her Master in Liberal Arts degree from the University of St. Thomas.
Phil Ritter joined the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute in May 2014, where he oversees the programs, staff and operations of the Institute.
Prior to joining the Institute, Phil served as Executive Vice President for Government and Stakeholder Affairs at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, where he directed the airport’s government relations, communications, community relations and board support activities. Before joining the airport, Phil held the position of Senior Vice President, Public Affairs with Texas Instruments Incorporated, where he was a member of the corporate Strategy Leadership Team with global responsibility for government affairs, community relations and corporate political activities. Prior to joining Texas Instruments, he served on the staff of the Texas Senate Jurisprudence Committee and as an attorney with Sun Exploration and Production Company in Dallas.
Phil’s philanthropic and community involvement is extensive. He currently serves as Chairman of the Development Board of the University of Texas at Dallas and was a member of the Board of Governors of the Dallas Symphony Association. Phil served as Campaign Chair and Chairman of the Board for the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and in 2004 he led a successful campaign to secure voter approval for $450 million in real estate purchases and facility construction for the Dallas County Community College District. As a member of the Board of Governors of The Dallas Foundation, Phil chaired the Advisory Board for the $12 million Texas Resources for Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment (TRIAD) Fund.
Phil earned an undergraduate degree with honors in Urban Studies and a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Maryland, and a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is admitted to the practice of law in Maryland and Texas.
Lauren Roth works primarily on the Caruth Smart Justice Project, a Dallas-based project funded by the W.W. Caruth Foundation. The project focuses on the diversion of people with mental illnesses from the criminal justice system into evidence-based treatment. Lauren works closely with the Vice President of Adult Policy and her Smart Justice colleagues to assure the project’s success. Before joining the Institute, Lauren served as the Regional Resources Evaluator at The Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, coordinating data collection efforts of several coalition partners across a 19-county service area surrounding the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Prior to her appointment at The Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Lauren conducted research within the Purdue University Psychology Department’s Intimate Partner Violence Lab. Lauren has a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of North Texas, and graduated Phi Betta Kappa with her Bachelor of Science in Psychological Sciences at Purdue University. While at Purdue, Lauren was a two-time Honorable Mention All-America, three-time U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier, and proud Team Captain as a member of the Purdue Women’s Swim Team.
Dr. Selby leads all of the Institute’s work with child and family-serving systems, and has 20 years of experience with projects in mental health, child welfare and juvenile justice settings. He has worked as an administrator, consultant and evaluator across a range of institutional and community-based settings in juvenile justice, mental health and child welfare. Dr. Selby has specific expertise in fidelity-based approaches to evaluating and implementing evidence-based models, and he consults in the areas of evaluation, program development, and training with government and community-based agencies and foundations.
Seema Shah, MD, is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist who has been involved in behavioral health care for over a decade. She completed her undergraduate degree at Northwestern University and earned her medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Shah is board certified in both Adult Psychiatry and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. She completed her residency and fellowship at Brown University.
Prior to moving to Texas, Dr. Shah worked in a mental health clinic embedded in an alternative school setting in the Philadelphia area. She worked closely with a social work team as well as teachers and school administrators to treat the emotional needs of their students.
In 2013, Dr. Shah helped start an integrated behavioral health program at Children’s Health Pediatric Group affiliated with Children’s Health in Dallas. She led a team of 2 clinical psychologists and 11 social workers that provided behavioral health treatment, consultation, and education to 20 pediatric outpatient clinics that served approximately 80,000 children, most of whom were on Medicaid.
Dr. Shah currently serves on the board of the National Network of Child Psychiatry Access Programs (NNCPAP), and is a member of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA). She has presented nationally on the topic of integrated behavioral health care.
Sam Shore, MSW, focuses his consultations on creating recovery- and resiliency-oriented systems of care in publically funded settings at the state and local levels. Sam holds a Masters in Social Work from The University of Texas at Austin and is licensed in Texas. He has 35 years of experience in the field of mental health services and policy. Sam has served in several leadership positions in his career and has acquired extensive experience in public mental health services strategic planning, policy development, operations, and evaluation. In his career in the Texas mental health system, Mr. Shore held positions in community mental health, state hospital psychiatric inpatient services, and the state office. Sam served as the project director for several successful SAMHSA grant projects, including the Mental Health Transformation grant, which allowed the state to work with community collaboratives to build a strong foundation of recovery-oriented systems of care for people with serious mental illness and children with severe emotional disturbance. He also served as the state director of mental health services for veterans and their families, and project director of a jail diversion and trauma recovery grant. The jail diversion grant focused on developing state and local policies and practices to benefit veterans and their families. Sam has special interests and experience in self-directed care, integration of physical and behavioral health systems, and trauma-informed care.
Aaron is a member of the Institute’s Veterans Team and supports policy and technical assistance projects for Texas veterans and their families. As a Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (Fleet Marine Force) and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, he is intimately familiar with the military and post-9/11 veteran population of Texas.
Prior to coming to the Institute, he established the Community Outreach Program at the Texas Veterans Commission. In that role he was responsible for working with communities to build collaborations among local organizations, assist them in accessing state programs and help them connect with veterans that were unaware or uninformed about state and federal veteran benefits.
Since joining the Institute, Aaron has worked closely with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to develop and support the Texas Veterans and Family Alliance grant program. He continues to support innovative programs and communities that help veterans and their families receive the care they need and deserve.
Aaron received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Southwestern University and is an MBA student at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi.
Bill Solomon came to the Policy Institute with extensive experience in managing the financial operations of nonprofit institutions. In his previous role, he served for twenty years as Chief Financial Officer of The Dallas Foundation, where he directed the financial reporting, investing, compliance and information technology activities of the organization. Bill is excited to be able to contribute his financial talents and experience to help improve mental health services for all Texans. He is an Eagle Scout and enjoys spending time with his wife and four kids, especially in the great outdoors.
Dr. Jacqualene Stephens, Ph.D., LMFT, joins the Meadows Mental Health Policy team in July 2017. Dr. Stephens is a clinical psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with over 25 years of experience in both clinical and administrative roles. Her clinical career focused on ensuring access to mental health services for low-income individuals and historically underserved minority communities. Dr. Stephens will initially be focused on transforming the Dallas justice system to better identify, assess and divert persons with mental illness from the justice system. Additionally, she will assist and support communities throughout the State with developing and improving their local mental health system.
She joins the Institute after having served more than twenty years as the Director of Behavioral Health and Social Services at Parkland Health & Hospital System where she was responsible for a full range of mental health and psychosocial services in a network of primary care clinics, homeless programs and women’s clinics that served a low income, culturally diverse patient population. Dr. Stephens also took the lead on innovative projects such as Shared Medical Appointments, Intensive Case Management of High Risk patients and Telemedicine. In addition to her clinical expertise in the area of integration of behavioral health and primary care, which she believes is essential, Dr. Stephens is also skilled in organizational consultation, executive coaching and cultural competency.
Dr. Stephens has been consultant to the Dallas Cowboys Football Team since 2004, working with players on mental health and family issues and also works with NBA teams and other athletes in the same capacity. She is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, in the departments of Clinical Psychology and Rehabilitation Counseling Psychology.
Dr. Stephens has been the recipient of multiple awards including the CEO Award from Parkland Health & Hospital System, Distinguished Psychologist of the Year from the Dallas Psychological Association, the Prism Clinician Award from the Mental Health Association of Greater Dallas and was named Outstanding Alumni from the University of North Texas. For Dr. Stephens “shifting how we as a state think about mental health and ensuring it is seen as essential” is her passion and she is excited to be able to do so as part of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute.
Ms. Sternbach specializes in the design, implementation, and management of health and human service systems with strong emphasis on Medicaid managed care, health finance policy and delivery system design. With over 30 years of experience, she has held senior management positions at the federal, state and provider levels and been a senior manager for one of the largest behavioral health managed care organizations. Ms. Sternbach focuses on health finance policy, managed care capacity development, organizational assessments and mergers, and assisting provider organizations with implementing accountable care strategies related to health reform.
Ron Stretcher brings over 30 years of experience in the social, health and judicial services field to MMHPI. Ron recently retired after 26 years with Dallas County, serving the last eleven years as criminal justice director. Ron was instrumental in lowering and stabilizing the jail population, improving pre-trial release services and expanding jail diversion for special populations. Ron also served 10 years as deputy director of the Dallas County Juvenile Department where he developed and implemented family preservation programs, a charter school for local juvenile facilities, and an alternative education program for students expelled from school. Ron also managed several grant programs for Dallas County, including the Ryan White HIV Services and related programs. Prior to joining Dallas County, Ron worked for the Texas Department of Human Services (now part of the state HHSC) in the income assistance division (the former Food Stamps and AFDC programs).
Ron Stretcher represented the Dallas County Commissioners Court on the Board of Directors of the North Texas Behavioral Health Authority, and was chairman of the board during the transition from managed care to a community center model of providing services. Ron was a founding member of the Dallas County Behavioral Health Leadership Team, which coordinates behavioral health services. Ron also founded the Texas Criminal Justice Planners Executive Forum and is a past chair of the North Central Texas Council of Governments Policy Development Committee.
Monica Thyssen has more than 20 years of experience in both health and behavioral health policy and has held a variety of positions in Texas with a primary focus on Medicaid, Medicaid managed care, children’s mental health and the integration of physical health and behavioral health services. She has worked extensively at the national, state and community level on the execution of major systemic advocacy activities and the development and presentation of recommendations that impact health policy. Monica led the implementation of the integration of physical health and behavioral health services into Medicaid managed care in Texas and has provided technical assistance on integration at both the state and national level.
Lisa Tomaka, MS, MPA, has 25 years of experience in children’s mental health, wraparound, and systems of care. Ms. Tomaka’s primary responsibilities focus on assisting with the implementation and coordination of children’s mental health service systems. She has served as project lead for a comprehensive children’s behavioral health system assessment in North Texas, a statewide trauma-informed care practice assessment, and a system assessment and demonstration project in Dallas, Texas, for school- and community-based behavioral and mental health services for youth.
Prior to working with MMHPI, Ms. Tomaka was instrumental in redesigning children’s mental health service delivery in El Paso, Texas. She has also developed and implemented a college readiness program for at-risk minority high school students and several evidence-based prevention and early intervention programs for families at risk of child welfare system involvement.
Jessy has over a decade of experience in Texas criminal justice policy, with an extensive background in data analysis and visualization and policymaking. Prior to joining the Institute, she worked at the Council of State Governments Justice Center (JC). At JC, she worked on state and county level projects, specializing in Texas based recidivism and indigent defense assessment and analysis. She created and managed the Five County Recidivism project after authoring a proxy risk assessment, so counties could have reliable intra and inter-county recidivism comparisons to guide policy making at the pretrial and reentry points. The discoveries from this project were integrated in the key measures of the Stepping Up Initiative, a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jail. She was also the lead analyst on the Harris County Public Defender assessment report, which lead to positions and presentations at state and national indigent defense data collection and measurement options.
Prior to JC, Jessy was the senior research analyst at the Office of Court Administration, a consultant with MGT of America, and on the research staff at Texas Workforce Commission where she tracked employment outcomes for participants in Project RIO (Re-Integration of Offenders). Jessy received her bachelor’s degree from University of Texas at Austin, her Master of Public Policy from the College of William and Mary, and her Master of Arts in Political Science from the University of Houston.
Kate Volti has an extensive background working on health and human services issues for children and youth. Previously, Kate held several positions with the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), including as the Director of Community Access in the Office of Social Services, as the Senior Policy Advisor charged with designing the STAR Kids Medicaid managed care model for children with disabilities, as an External Relations Specialist, and as the lead for the Task Force for Children with Special Needs. Kate came to HHSC after serving in the Texas Senate as a Senior Policy Advisor where she focused on initiatives to: improve early childhood nutrition; increase coordination of services for children with special needs; require insurers to cover Applied Behavioral Analysis for children when medically necessary; and improve support for kin care providers of children involved with Child Protective Services.
Kate received her Master of Public Affairs at the LBJ School at the University of Texas and her Bachelor of Arts in Cross Cultural Anthropology and Political Studies from Pitzer College.
B. J. Wagner, MS, joined the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute in the Fall of 2015. In her role with MMHPI she will lead the Policy Institute’s Smart Justice work assisting communities across Texas transform systems to increase prevention and intervention services and reduce justice involvement for special populations.
B. J. began her career in law enforcement as a county jailer and later as a law enforcement officer in North East and Western Texas. In response to the increasing number of contacts with persons with mental illness she experienced as a law enforcement officer she chose to return to graduate school and completed studies in clinical neuropsychology and counseling psychology at Texas A&M and began working in community mental health clinics. She continued consulting with the field of law enforcement on best practices as she provided services to clientele through local mental health authorities. B. J. has developed curriculum for disciplines across the criminal justice system on mental health awareness, symptom recognition and verbal de-escalation techniques.
B.J. worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) where she developed front end diversion and continuity of care systems for offenders with special care needs and guided Medicaid implementation for limited populations within the State’s prison systems. While at TDCJ, B.J. worked closely with the Department of State Health Services to redesign the TRAG assessment to include criminogenic risk factors to ensure all persons being assessed in the public mental health system also had criminogenic needs addressed. In 2015, after serving as Deputy Director for the Reentry and Integration Division at TDCJ, B. J. joined the Texas Veterans Commission during the regular legislative session. She worked closely with governmental relations analyzing proposed legislation and advising on emerging trends and state and local initiatives to address the needs of trauma affected veterans at risk of justice involvement.
B.J. received recognition from the Texas Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council for contributions to elevating awareness of prevention and care needs for Texans living with brain injury. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Qualitative Criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Prior to joining the Institute, Victoria Walsh worked for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), where most recently she was the team lead for statewide administration and leadership of the SNAP-Education Program. In this role, she developed and implemented statewide nutrition education and obesity prevention goals, objectives, policies and procedures in accordance with federal guidance. Victoria also served as a Senior Policy Analyst for the Medicaid/CHIP Division during her time at HHSC. Victoria has a background working on program implementation within community health centers, conducting research on child support and paternity establishment guidelines, and managing a process and outcomes evaluation. Victoria has a bachelor’s degree from Trinity University and a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
Casie Wenmohs is an experienced communication and public affairs professional with expertise in policy analysis, advocacy, community engagement, and project oversight. She has ten years of state governmental relations experience.
Casie has volunteered extensively with The Junior League of Austin, Con Mi MADRE, Terry Foundation, and Meals on Wheels. She’s been very involved with PTA at the local, city, and state level and has served Austin ISD on the District Advisory Council and Citizens’ Bond Advisory Committee. Casie is a member of the Leadership Austin Class of 2015 and was a McBee Fellow with the Austin Area Research Organization in 2013.
She attended The University of Texas at Austin where she received a Bachelor of Journalism degree with highest honors in 1993 and a master’s degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs in 1995. With her husband Will Wenmohs, a CPA, Casie has three sons who attend Austin ISD schools.
Prior to joining the Policy Institute, Alexa White, MPH, was a Senior Program Manager at The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting emotional health and preventing suicide among high school and college students. Prior to that, Alexa was an Evaluation Assistant for the Westchester (NY) County Project LAUNCH initiative, a SAMHSA-funded grant aimed at improving the overall wellness of and school readiness in children ages 0-8. Alexa received her Bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University and her Master of Public Health degree from New York Medical College.
Ms. Zabaneh, SHRM-CP, PHR, serves as Director of Administration for the Institute. She joined the Institute in March 2017 as part of the Administration Team to manage HR activities and assist with developing an infrastructure for the Institute that supports efficient work practices.
Ms. Zabaneh has over fifteen years of human resource experience with H-E-B Grocery Co. and most recently, the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, a unit within The University of Texas at Austin’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.
Ms. Zabaneh received her bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from The University of Texas at Austin and is currently a SHRM Certified Professional and Professional in Human Resources with the HR Certification Institute (HRCI).
Dr. Zahniser is responsible for the design of all quantitative and qualitative analysis by Institute staff and subcontractors. He is a licensed clinical psychologist with 25 years of evaluation research, consultation, and program development experience related to health and human services policy. Dr. Zahniser has extensive experience in both applied quantitative and qualitative methodologies, with particular expertise in the areas of primary care / behavioral health integration, community-level outcome measurement for adults and children, provider and local system data-driven innovation and performance improvement, and best practice fidelity. He also has particular skill in recovery promotion and stigma reduction, often working closely with consumers and family members on peer-driven evaluation.
David Brown is a nationally recognized expert on security, law enforcement and public safety in the inner city. He is the former and longest tenured (since the 1960s) police chief of Dallas, the nation’s ninth largest city. Brown currently serves as a contributor for ABC News where he provides on-air perspective on live security events and news impacting the country.
An active participant in causes impacting the Dallas community, Brown joined the board of Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and serves as a Senior Fellow. He also has been named senior advisor to The Rainwater Charitable Foundation, which focuses on grant giving to under-privileged and formerly incarcerated children.
Brown leads from an authentically grounded place of duty and service borne out of commitment to his hometown. Called to serve as an officer based on his upbringing in the inner city, Brown worked his way up through the Dallas police force onto the department’s SWAT team, which he led and served on for seven years (1996-2003.)
When Brown became deputy chief in 2003, Dallas had led the country in violent crimes for six years running. Working side-by-side with (retired) Chief David Kunkle, Brown created impact via accountability among the 3,500+ sworn officers comprising the force. Brown personally led and managed the change initiative, meeting weekly and daily with officers to establish new performance measures. The seven-year change effort led to the most significant reduction in crime in the city’s history, increased diversity and education levels within the department’s managerial ranks, and established clearer performance measures, and advancement and succession criteria.
Brown is perhaps best known for his steady leadership during the worst police shooting in the nation’s history (July 2016.) Direct challenges to protestors, combined with heartfelt commitment to surviving families of the fallen (five) and wounded (nine) officers, will remain etched in the minds and hearts of those impacted by the tragedy. Following the shooting, a news outlet called Brown “America’s chief who comforted a nation.”
Brown’s community-based approach has been recognized as a model for how to enforce laws and police the inner city. David is frequently invited to speak to groups both locally and across the country, including recent engagements at the Bank of America Senior Leadership Meeting, the United Talent Artists Executive Retreat, and the Southwest Airlines Power of Inclusion Meeting. David has been recognized locally in the Dallas community and received both the Nancy Lieberman Charities Trailblazer Award, and the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award, which was presented to Brown by the Maguire Ethics Center at Southern Methodist University (SMU.)
In June, 2017 Brown released Called to Rise: A Life in Faithful Service to the Community That Raised Me, which chronicles his life and professional experiences via personal memoirs.
Brown earned an MBA at Amberton University, Garland, TX (2001) and a bachelor of arts (B.A.) from Dallas Baptist University (1999.) He earlier attended the University of Texas (1979-1983) but left to start what would become a 33-year career in law enforcement.
David and his wife, Cedonia, reside in Dallas with their 10-year-old daughter. When Brown isn’t working or thinking through security issues, he likes to exercise, play golf, travel and spend time with his grandson.
Dr. Tony Fabelo is the Institute’s full-time, Austin-based Senior Fellow for Justice Policy. In this role Dr. Fabelo works with the Institute’s Smart Justice team providing strategic guidance and growing our capacity for local system assessment and system-wide reform. Fabelo was the executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council from 1991-2003. Before that, he served in other capacities assisting, since 1984, five Texas governors and 17 regular biennial Texas legislatures. In recent years he has worked on correctional system reforms in Texas, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana as part of the Justice Reinvestment initiative of the center. He served in 2010-2016 in the US Department of Justice Science Advisory Board. In early 2012 he was appointed to a prestigious panel of the National Academy of Sciences that issued in 2014 a national report on the consequences of high incarceration rates. He was one of the authors of Breaking School Rules, a landmark examination of school discipline policies in Texas that set in motion a national examination of this issue. In 2015 he completed the most comprehensive ever data-driven examination of the Texas juvenile justice system and was the main author of the related report, Closer to Home. In 2017 he assisted the Texas Governor’s Office Criminal Justice Division in the design and implementation of a statewide strategy to combat child sex trafficking. Most recently, he served as the deputy director of the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments. Among other recognitions, his career-long work with the Texas District and County Attorney Association earned him in 2015 the organization’s award for distinguished service to the association and the profession. Fabelo holds a doctorate in government from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Katie Olse was appointed executive director of the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services in December of 2016. She formerly served as the Deputy Commissioner for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Prior to this she was Associate Commissioner for DFPS and Chief of Staff for the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). She served as the Senior Policy Advisor for DFPS and the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services in the Office of Social Services at HHSC. She was previously the Director of the Center for Consumer and External Affairs at DFPS where she worked closely with the DFPS Commissioner and the Legislature on critical issues around Child Protective Services and children and family support.
Prior to joining the HHS system, she was the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Texas where she worked on health and human services issues as well as other issues including education, criminal justice, and voter education. Katie has a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University and has completed graduate studies at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
William Schnapp has been involved in the development and delivery of mental health and intellectual and developmental disabilities services for more than 50 years. He is a past member of the Texas Board of Mental Health and Mental Retardation and past Chairperson of the Texas Council on Offenders with Mental Impairments. Both of these positions were gubernatorial appointments. He was the Chairperson of the Mental Health Needs Council from 1994 to 2008.
Dr. Schnapp teaches Community, Administrative, and Forensic Psychiatry, Health Policy, and Ethics. He has held faculty appointments at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, The University of Texas School of Public Health, The Baylor College of Medicine, and the University of Houston. He was the Director of the Mental Health Policy Analysis Collaborative from 2007 to 2011. He is the author of numerous publications and has written and produced two documentary films.
Currently, Dr. Schnapp is the Mental Health Policy Advisor to Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. He has been the recipient of awards for advocacy, community leadership, and excellence in teaching.
Judge Specia’s career has been dedicated to public service for more than three decades and is defined by his commitment to children and preventing child abuse. He provided leadership in establishing the Texas Supreme Court Children’s Commission and forming Child Protection Courts throughout the state. Judge Specia further brought his experience and vision to the Texas judiciary as the first Jurist in Residence with the Children’s Commission in 2009.
Judge Specia established both the Bexar County Children’s Court, which provides specialized services for children, and also the Family Drug Treatment Court, which handled Child Protective Services cases and became a model for the state. He was vice-chair of the Supreme Court’s Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth, and Families and chair of the Supreme Court Task Force on Foster Care. Judge Specia served as District Judge of the 225th District Court in San Antonio for eighteen years (1988-2006) and was the administrative judge for Bexar County district courts for four of those years. He also served as Master of the 289th Family and Juvenile District Court (1985-1988). Commissioner Specia was one of the state’s first child welfare attorneys, serving as a regional attorney for the former Texas Department of Human Services (1980-1985), and he was a family law attorney in private practice before becoming a district judge.
In July 2016, the Honorable John J. Specia, Jr. resumed his Mediation, Arbitration and Private Judging Practice at Plunkett, Griesenbeck & Mimari, Inc. (formerly Plunkett & Griesenbeck, Inc.) Judge Specia practiced at Plunkett & Griesenbeck, Inc. from 2007 to 2012, where he conducted over 500 mediations and arbitrations. In 2012 Governor Rick Perry appointed Judge Specia as Commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. He served in that capacity until May 31, 2016. Judge Specia spearheaded an overhaul of Child Protective Services, developed system enhancements, and significantly expanded the child abuse and neglect prevention and early intervention program. Under his leadership, Texas became a national leader in child welfare transformation efforts and research into child abuse and neglect fatalities.