Samantha Zuniga Thompson, LCSW-S
Samantha Zuniga Thompson is a Program Specialist at the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing. Samantha has 15 years of experience providing therapeutic support services to children and families who have experienced abuse, neglect, and trauma. Her area of expertise is working with caregiver’s involved in the child welfare system as well as developing best practices and trauma informed programs that serve caregivers. In her professional roles she has experience in the areas of in-home family therapy, case management, clinical supervision, program development, and clinical administration. Samantha has worked in various non-profit agencies in the Austin area including SafePlace (now SAFE) and The Center for Child Protection.
Samantha’s professional passion is in developing programs and interventions that foster a parent’s ability to parent in a safe, healthy, and nurturing manner with the overall goal of creating healthy and thriving families in our community. Samantha has a Masters of Science in Social Work from UT Austin and a Bachelors of Science in Sociology from Texas State University. The Neurosequential Network acknowledges that Samantha Thompson has completed NMT Training Certification through the Phase II level. Samantha is a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator.
Nelkasia Graves, M.Ed, LCPAA, LCDC-I
Nelkasia Graves joined TACFS as the Permanency Resource Specialist in 2023 after 15 years of work in child welfare. She started as a Licensed Child Placing Agency Administrator in 2011 where she united and supported kinship families. Her talent for bringing people together led her to her role at the Alliance where she supports the use of innovative approaches to achieving permanency for youth involved in Texas child welfare.
Born in Cuero, Texas, a 6-square-mile town outside of Victoria, Nelkasia finished high school in Pflugerville before heading to the Houston area for what would be many years to come. She earned both a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in education in Counseling from Texas Southern University. Now, she’s earning a doctorate in social work from the University of Southern California.
Nelkasia’s interest and advocacy for kinship care took root when she was a child being raised by her grandparents and extended family. Her lived experience continued into her adult life as she became a short-term kinship caregiver for her system-involved family members.
Engagement & Communications Team
Katie Olse was appointed CEO of the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services in December 2016. She formerly served as the Deputy Commissioner for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Prior to her role as Deputy Commissioner she was Associate Commissioner for DFPS and Chief of Staff for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. She served as the Senior Policy Advisor to the Executive Commissioner for DFPS and the former Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. 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 within the child protection, regulatory, adult protective, and prevention/early intervention realms.
Prior to joining the HHS system, she was the executive director of a statewide nonprofit organization where she worked on health and human services issues as well as other issues including education, criminal justice, and mental health. Katie has a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University and has completed graduate studies at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
Katy Bourgeois joined the Texas Alliance of Children and Family Services as the Vice President of Systems Advancement in April 2021. Before joining the team, Katy served as the Director of Aligned Impact at Mission Capital, where she managed a team responsible for implementing and advising cross-sector collaborative projects designed to address complex community problems. At Mission Capital, Katy led the development and growth of the Travis County Collaborative for Children—a high-impact, cross-sector collaborative designed to bring healing and permanency to children in foster care. In addition, she facilitated the creation of Foster Community, a collaborative initiative aimed at increasing the number and diversity of healing kinship, adoptive, and foster families in Central Texas.
Prior to Mission Capital, Katy worked with nonprofit and government organizations as an independent consultant, specializing in grant writing, fund and program development, and building government/nonprofit partnerships that expanded service capacity and increased impact. Her expertise in these areas came from work within state agencies where she conducted program evaluations for the Legislative Budget Board, provided fiscal policy analysis to the Governor of Texas, and managed activities related to federal fund development and strategic planning for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. In addition, Katy worked with the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services to oversee a study of services to adults with autism in Texas and review recommendations for pilot projects to address gaps in services. She also worked with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to design a method for distributing $7.2 million in federal funding to support pilot programs targeted at providing home visitation services to at-risk infants and children.
Katy received a MSW from The University of Texas and a BA in Psychology from Mount Holyoke College.
Kristine Blackstone, msw
Kristene Blackstone joined the Alliance as the Director of Strategic Initiatives in December 2022 after more than 27 years of public service working with children and families. She had previously worked as an independent child welfare consultant, providing support to TACFS, Texas’ SSCCs, the University of Texas Institute of Child and Family Well-Being and other organizations. Prior to that she served as the Associate Commissioner for Child Protective Services in Texas from May 2016-May 2020, leading one of the largest child protective services systems in the country with over 10,000 employees. During that time, she oversaw the expansion of community-based care and the implementation of numerous initiatives aimed at improving outcomes for children and families.
Kristene has also worked as the Deputy Director for Field Operations for the Texas Office of the Attorney General’s Child Support Division, and as a caseworker, program director and regional program administrator at the Department of Family and Protective Services.
Kristene serves on the board of directors for Learning Bridge, a non-profit organization whose mission is to match tutors with kids in foster care to give them the educational support they need to stay in school, improve academic performance, and achieve greater success later in life. She cares deeply about working with children, families and communities to create opportunities to thrive.
A Dallas native, Kristene received her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of North Texas and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin.
kate mckerlie, mssw, mph
Kate McKerlie, MSSW, MPH is currently the Communications Director at the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing at the University of Texas at Austin, Steve Hicks School of Social Work. As a professional communicator, Kate’s main mission is to make information clear and kind.
Kate directs TXICFW’s communications by managing the team who maintains the institute website, e-newsletters, promotional print materials, and social media platforms. Kate is especially interested in using communications channels to promote and disseminate public health and social work research effectively and close the researcher/practitioner gap through interactive co-creative processes. She helps TXICFW staff disseminate their research to the public through information design, such as report and brief design, infographics, and data visualization. Kate also specializes in video and motion graphics.
Kate has an interest in leading groups through change. She has successfully led several organizations through transformation and restructuring by bringing her unique lens to re-branding, strategic planning, and team building. Kate is a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator. She brings her previous experiences in public health, film, design, and working directly with youth and women as a counselor and mentor to her facilitation work with groups, organizations, and individuals. She has a special interest in helping those in the public sector such as non-profits, government, and educational groups and organizations. Kate is a contributing member and peer mentor of Women Communicators of Austin (WCA) and has sat on the Steering Committee of Healthy Youth Partnership (HYP Austin).
Monica faulkner, ph.d., lmsw
Dr. Monica Faulkner is a Research Associate Professor at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin and the Director and co-founder of the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing. Dr. Faulkner holds bachelor’s degrees in Government and Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin and a Masters in Social Work from the University of Houston. She received her PhD in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin in 2010.
As a social worker, Dr. Faulkner has worked as an advocate for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and as a case manager for children in foster care. Dr. Faulkner also worked in the Texas Legislature focusing on policy issues related to health and human services for two legislative sessions.
Currently, Dr. Faulkner uses her research expertise to build evidence for interventions and policies that improve the lives of marginalized populations of youth and families. She specializes in program evaluations related to child maltreatment prevention, foster care, and adolescent sexual health. She has also conducted original research related to Latino undocumented parents, permanency of foster youth, and educational outcomes of foster youth.
Using her research and practice experience, Dr. Faulkner has facilitated trainings for child welfare professionals and foster parents related to sexual health and working with young parents in foster care. She also provides trainings on trauma-informed practice for professionals working with asylum seekers, survivors of family and sexual violence, and parents who have experienced childhood trauma. Dr. Faulkner is the Co-Principal Investigator of the Title IV-E training grant, which provides training and support for social work students working in child welfare.
Anna Wasim, LMSW
Anna is a Research Coordinator with the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing. Her scholarship focuses on emerging practice models that enhance the safety and wellbeing of families using trauma-informed approaches. She is also interested in the role of domestic violence in service engagement. Anna is the evaluation coordinator for the Texas Permanency Outcomes Project, which examines a new practice model for child welfare workers to engage birth and foster families in building networks of support for foster children.
Prior to joining TXICFW, Anna supported several research projects focused on interpersonal violence and sexual assault, including managing a pilot study examining the use of video evidence in family violence cases. Her direct practice experience includes working with survivors of abuse in legal and community settings; youth experiencing poverty; immigrants and refugees; and community engagement for language and literacy access. She has served on several community groups on issues pertaining to family violence and sexual assault.
Cassandra Mendoza, MA
Cassandra Mendoza is a Curriculum & Training Specialist with the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing. She has multiple years of experience working with Black and Latinx families in urban settings, families with child welfare involvement, and children living in under-resourced communities. Cassandra has experience providing academic tutoring and socio-emotional counseling to public school students in Chicago, IL. Prior to joining the institute, she was a bilingual mental health therapist and crisis specialist providing services to families that have experienced violence and child welfare-involved youth and caregivers in Chicago, IL and Los Angeles County.