Advisory Committee

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To ensure that the National Center's priorities and activities address the needs of the communities implementing FGDM, we have assembled the following Advisory Committee of respected individuals in the field.

Gale Burford, MSW, PhD


Gale Burford, MSW, PhD, is a professor at the University of Vermont, Department of Social Work. He was principal manager and investigator, along with Joan Pennell, of the Family Group Decision Making project in Newfoundland and Labrador. He has experience as a practitioner, manager, and senior administrator in services for troubled and troubling children and their families in community and residential care. Gale and coauthor Joe Hudson edited Family Group Conferencing: New Directions in Community Centered Child and Family Practice published by Aldine de Gruyter.



Nicole Wright-Gurdon, LICSW



Nicole Wright-Gurdon is the manager for family team meetings and other innovative family practices at the Child and Family Services Agency in Washington, D.C. She is a forerunner in leading the District of Columbia’s efforts to implement and expand family conferencing approaches that address a range of child and family needs throughout city government. With over 10 years experience as a clinical social worker in child welfare, Wright-Gurdon brings an added dimension to the field with strong expertise in family conferencing practices, community and government partnerships, system integration, data-driven outcomes and long-term strategic planning.

With solid knowledge of both direct service and administrative operations, Wright-Gurdon has been responsible for developing, implementing and administering a public, child welfare and community-based family conferencing practice model that operates 365 days a year. She has served as a model leader with experience in outcome-driven human services practice reform. Wright-Gurdon has provided expert consultation on family-involved practice approaches to several jurisdictions, including Maryland, Texas, the city of Philadelphia and the state of Washington. She has also worked diligently to increase awareness and appreciation for these practice approaches in a variety of venues, from local community organizations to international conferences.

Wright-Gurdon holds a bachelor of science degree in human development and family studies from Oakwood University in Alabama and a master’s in social work from the University of Maryland.


Lani Katoa-Taholo, MSW



Lani Katoa-Taholo earned her Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Brigham Young University in 1988 and her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, in 2001. After spending time on the islands of Tonga and traveling to Hong Kong, Lani served an 18-month missionary experience in Peru. She later returned to Utah where she was employed as a foster care worker, in-home worker, and family preservation worker. Lani currently focuses her time on working for state, church, and community entities.

Lani's practicum and work experience for the Utah State Division of Child and Family Services began in 1987, and she continues to work for the division as a regional mentoring assistant in Salt Lake City. In this role, Lani assists child welfare professionals in understanding and implementing the Family Conferencing Model. Family Conferencing is now mandatory practice for all Utah State Division of Child and Family Service workers affiliated with children and families.

Lani also works as a therapist for a local church agency and as a program developer and co-facilitator of the Mana (Hawaiian for "power from within") program, which is designed for Polynesian children and their families involved in youth corrections or probation services. Lani has presented at numerous conferences throughout the world and is applying for a doctorate program in marriage and family therapy.


Teri Kook, MSW


Teri Kook is a program officer with the Stuart Foundation. Previously she was the chief of child welfare services with the Stanislaus County Community Services Agency in the Central Valley of California. She is a part-time faculty member with the MSW program at California State University, Stanislaus. During the past 15 years, Teri has served children and families in roles including child welfare worker, supervisor, educator, trainer, and manager. She has provided training on family decision meetings throughout the United States.


Suzanne Lohrbach, MS, LICSW


Sue Lohrbach is currently employed by Olmsted County Child & Family Services in Rochester, Minnesota, where she supervises the family group decision making and ongoing field services for high/intensive-risk child protection. She has clinical consultation responsibilities both to the domestic violence response team and the implementation of a child protection practice framework (Signs of Safety) throughout the continuum of child and family services. Sue has 20 years of experience as a mental health clinician working with children, adolescents, adults, and families. She has extensive group work experience with domestic violence treatment programs and is the principle architect of Family Works, a treatment program designed for high-risk child protection families. She is trained in mediation, family group decision making in child welfare and youth justice, and wraparound processes. She is a frequent presenter on divorce, adolescence, Signs of Safety, domestic


Joan Pennell, MSW, PhD


Joan Pennell, MSW, PhD, is Professor and Head, Department of Social Work, North Carolina State University. She is the principal investigator of the North Carolina Family-Centered Meetings Project and previously directed the North Carolina Family Group Conferencing Project. In Canada, she served as a principal investigator (with Gale Burford) for a Newfoundland and Labrador demonstration of family group conferencing in situations of child maltreatment and domestic violence. She has presented on FGC in Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, and United States. She helped to found the first shelter for abused women and their children in Newfoundland and has co-facilitated support groups for abused women of European and Aboriginal descent. She served on the National Crime Prevention Council (Canada), chaired its Youth Justice Committee, and promoted social development strategies for crime prevention. She co-authored Community Research as Empowerment (Oxford University Press), Family group conferencing: Evaluation guidelines (American Humane), and Widening the Circle: The Practice and Evaluation of Family Group Conferencing with Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (NASW Press, forthcoming 2005).


Paul M. Sivak, MSW


Paul Sivak earned his Masters of Social Welfare from New York State University, Stony Brook, in 1979 and has focused his entire professional life on community organizing and building, activism, and education. He has worked as a consultant for community building for organizations, tenant groups, organized homeless folks, and mental health clients. He has served as executive director of a community-based organization providing supported housing. Paul has worked in public child welfare and is currently a lecturer and coordinator of the Child Welfare Training Project in the MSW program at California State University, Stanislaus. He has presented at numerous conferences and has designed and conducted training/development in family conferencing for assorted public and community-based agencies in California and other states. Paul was instrumental in bringing the family conferencing practice to grassroots community organizations and assisting in the creation of collaborations with institutionally based programs.


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