Staff & Fellows

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Mike Doolan, American Humane fellow

Anita Horner, manager of practice advancements in child welfare

Michelle Howard, child welfare training and technical assistance specialist

Molly Jenkins, program assistant

Lisa Merkel-Holguin, director of practice and systems advancement and director of the National Center on Family Group Decision Making

Amy Rohm, child welfare program specialist

Leslie Wilmot, director of training and professional development


Michael Doolan, ONZM, MSW (Distinction), BA, Diploma in Social Sciences, MANZASW

Mike Doolan is a senior fellow from the Department of Social Work, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. He was the chief social worker for New Zealand’s statutory child welfare agency, the Department of Child, Youth and Family, until 2001. Mike has an extensive background in child protection, child welfare and work with young people who offend. He has practiced as a field and residential social worker and supervisor, managed national residential programs and managed a comprehensive program to move care services from institutional to community settings during the 1980s. He led youth justice reform in New Zealand, which included the introduction of the family group conference in the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act of 1989.

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Anita Horner

Anita Horner is the Manager of Practice Advancements within Children’s Services at the American Humane Association and the National Center on Family Group Decision Making. Her primary responsibilities include community consultation, mentoring, curricula development, training, and technical assistance. Anita joined American Humane following a three and a half-year period as a child welfare supervisor at the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services. Her responsibilities included supervision of the family group conferencing program; child-specific recruitment; recruitment and retention of foster and adoptive homes; adolescent ongoing, parent education, kinship support, and case aide services. In addition, Anita played a key role in the development and implementation of the Child-Specific Recruitment Program. From 1996 to 1999, Anita was a family group conference coordinator with Arapahoe and Denver counties in Colorado.

Prior to her work with the Department of Human Services, Anita was employed for 10 years as a mental health counselor at inpatient adolescent psychiatric/dual diagnoses units, residential treatment centers, and residential child care facilities. Anita has presented nationally on the use of family group conferences for youth-focused permanency planning and child-specific recruitment. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Speech Communication from the University of Denver.

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Michelle Howard, MS, LPC

Michelle Howard, MS, LPC, was the principal trainer, mentor and facilitator for Family Group Conference services for Adams County Social Services in Colorado. She developed training modules and provided education and training to county staff, court staff and community service providers to increase understanding of FGDM principles and practice. Michelle also oversaw and coordinated the Early Crisis Intervention Program developed to engage families up front in the decision-making process of service plan development and placement. Michelle was a member of the Colorado FGDM Forum convened to provide training, resources and support to area facilitators and coordinators. Michelle is a strong advocate for ensuring that professional expertise is joined with the experiential expertise of those served in a culturally responsive manner. Her mission is to support and impact holistic changes in the key areas that promote positive emotional and physical well-being and protection and permanency for all children, while ensuring that families and children have a voice. Michelle earned her Master's Degree in Counseling at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and is a Licensed Professional Counselor.

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Molly Jenkins, MSW

Molly Jenkins is a program Assistant in the Children’s Division of American Humane and a graduate of the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work, where she concentrated on children and families and received a certification in animal-assisted social work. Her background includes work in the veterinary arena, child welfare system and the violence prevention field, including playground conflict management, critical decision making, parenting skills, bullying prevention and restorative justice approaches. In addition, Jenkins is experienced with and dedicated to issues of social justice, oppression and privilege. Since joining American Humane in January 2009, she has worked with the Family Group Decision Making Program, the Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response, and the Restorative Justice Initiative. Recently, she joined American Humane’s Disparities Resource Center, which will, in part, address the disproportionality of children and families of color in the child welfare system.

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Lisa Merkel-Holguin, MSW

Lisa Merkel-Holguin, MSW, is the director of the National Center on Family Group Decision Making at American Humane. Since 1997, she has directed American Humane's FGDM initiative. In this capacity, she and other American Humane staff/consultants have provided training, technical assistance, and consultation to over 100 U.S. communities. On behalf of American Humane, Lisa has presented on FGDM to over 25 national and international audiences and co-organizes the only national annual meeting of professionals interested in family group decision making. In addition, she has authored/edited numerous publications on this topic, including:

Merkel-Holguin, L., Nixon, P., and Burford, G. (2003). Learning with Families: A Synopsis of FGDM Research and Evaluation in Child Welfare. In L. Merkel-Holguin (Ed.), Promising Results, Potential New Directions: Potential FGDM Research and Evaluation in Child Welfare. Protecting Children, 18 (1-2), 2-11.

Merkel-Holguin, L. (2003). Editor. Promising Results, Potential New Directions: Potential FGDM Research and Evaluation in Child Welfare. Protecting Children, 18 (1-2).

Nixon, P., Merkel-Holguin, L., Sivak, P., and K. Gunderson (2002). How can Family Group Conferences become family-driven? Some dilemmas and possibilities. Protecting Children 16 (3).

Merkel-Holguin, L., & Ribich, K. (2001). Does preparation really matter? In L. Merkel-Holguin & L. Wilmot (Eds.), 2000 Family Group Decision Making Roundtable: Summary of proceedings. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.

Merkel-Holguin, L., & Ribich, K. (2001). Family group conferencing: An extended family process to safeguard children and strengthen family well-being. In E. Walton, P. Sandau-Beckler, & M. Mannes (Eds.), Family-centered services and child well-being: Exploring issues in policy, practice, theory and research. New York: Columbia Press.

Merkel-Holguin, L., & Wilmot, L. (Eds.). (2001). 2000 Family Group Decision Making Roundtable: Summary of proceedings. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.

Merkel-Holguin, L. (2000). Practice diversions and philosophical departures in the implementation of family group conferencing. In G. Burford & J. Hudson (Eds.), Family group conferencing: Perspectives on policy, practice and research. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.

Merkel-Holguin, L. (2000). How do I use family meetings to develop optimal service plans? In H. Dubowitz & D. Depanfilis (Eds.), Handbook on child protection. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Merkel-Holguin, L., & Ribich, K. (Eds.). (2000). 1999 National Roundtable and International Evaluation Conference on Family Group Decision Making: Summary of proceedings. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.

Merkel-Holguin, L., (1999). Implementing family group decision making in the U.S.: An analysis of the benefits, challenges, and facilitators. In 1997 National Roundtable Series on Family Group Decision Making: Summary of Proceedings. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.

Merkel-Holguin, L. (Ed.). (1999). 1998 National Roundtable on Family Group Decision Making: Summary of proceedings. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.

Merkel-Holguin, L. (1998). Implementation of family group decision making in the U.S.: Policies and practices in transition. Protecting Children, 14(4), 4-10.

Merkel-Holguin, L. (1998). Implementing family group decision making in the U.S.: An analysis of the benefits, challenges, and facilitators. In 1997 National Roundtable Series on Family Group Decision Making: Summary of proceedings. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.

Merkel-Holguin, L. (Ed.). (1998). 1997 National Roundtable Series on Family Group Decision Making: Summary of proceedings. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.

Merkel-Holguin, L. (1998). Family group decision making: Harnessing family commitment and responsibility for the protection of children. Interdisciplinary Report on At-Risk Children & Families, 1(2), 1+.

Cramer, L., & Merkel-Holguin, L. (1997). Family Group Decision Making: An internationally replicated alternative to foster care. Family Resource Coalition of America Report, 16(1&2), 16+.

Merkel-Holguin, L, Winterfeld, A., Harper, C., Coburn, N., & Fluke, J. (1997). Innovations for children's services in the 21st century: Patch and Family Group Decision Making. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.

Merkel-Holguin, L. (1997). Family Group Decision Making: A Promising Approach for Protecting Children? Common Ground 16(3), 3.

Merkel-Holguin, L. (1996). Putting families back into the child protection partnership: Family Group Decision Making. Protecting Children 12(3), 4-7.

In collaboration with the National Advisory Committee for the Center, Lisa is responsible for advancing FGDM as a viable process to resolve concerns of child abuse and neglect and family violence.

Before joining American Humane, Lisa was a program manager at the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) developing and implementing their multi-faceted HIV/AIDS initiative. She has authored a number of monographs on the policy and practice implications of the AIDS epidemic on adoption and kinship care services for agencies and families, as well as CWLA's first Child Welfare Stat Book. She also coedited a special issue of the Child Welfare journal entitled Lessons from the Past: A History of Child Welfare. Lisa has direct practice and research experience in child day care, independent living services, and family foster care.

Lisa received her undergraduate degree in social work from the University of Dayton and her Master of Social Work degree, specializing in Child Welfare and Planning, Policy and Administration, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Amy Rohm, MSW

Amy Rohm is a program specialist with American Humane, working under the Differential Response and Family Group Decision Making initiatives. She is part of the consultation team leading the Ohio Alternative Response Pilot Project in 10 counties, providing training and technical assistance, coordination and ongoing support. Rohm serves as the project coordinator for the National Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services, which was awarded to American Humane, Walter R. McDonald & Associates, Inc., and the Institute of Applied Research in 2008 by the Children’s Bureau. Under the Family Group Decision Making Initiative, Rohm is a member of the training development team.

Rohm, A. (2008). Differential response: Progressive child welfare. Protecting Children, 23(1&2), 3-4.

Rohm, A., & Bruce, L. (2008). Responding to culture in family group decision making: Summarizing interviews with Kevin Ward and Inshirah Hassabu. Protecting Children, 23(4), 38-46.

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Leslie Wilmot, MSSW

Leslie Wilmot, MSSW, is the director of training and professional development and manager of the National Center on Family Group Decision Making at American Humane. She is a former family group conference coordinator, and her experience engaging families to mobilize their networks and strengths advances the mission of the National Center on FGDM. Leslie shares responsibility for providing training, technical assistance and consultation on American Humane's FGDM initiatives and assists with the organization of American Humane's annual FGDM conference.

Before joining American Humane, Leslie was a family group conference coordinator/facilitator at the Dane County Department of Human Services, Madison, Wis. She coordinated and facilitated more than 70 family group conferences based on the New Zealand model of family group conferencing (FGC). Leslie regularly provided training and technical assistance to local and regional agencies and community members on FGC practice and program/policy development. She has also presented nationally at American Humane's national conferences on FGDM. Her presentation topics have included Coaching to Support Practice Advancement and Transfer of Learning in FGDM, Engaging Caseworkers as a Pathway to Engaging Families, Children as Partners in the Family Group Conference Process, Domestic Violence and Family Group Conferencing, Preparation: A Critical Component to Achieving Success and Safety, Embracing Our Tens: Supporting Comfort, Presence, and Voice in FGCs, The Critical Role of the Social Worker in the FGC Process: A Guide for Coordinators/Facilitators. In addition, Leslie has authored a number of publications on FGDM and other topics, including:

Cahn, K., & Wilmot, L. (in press) (Eds.). Innovations in Child Welfare. Protecting Children, 25(1). Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.

Merkel-Holguin, L., & Wilmot, L. (2005). Analyzing family involvement approaches and reviewing trends in FGDM. In J. Pennell and G. Anderson (Eds.), Widening the circle: The practice and evaluation of family group conferencing with children, youth and their families. Washington, DC: NASW.

Wilmot, L. (Ed.). (2005). The Influence of culture and cultural competence on child and family well-being. Protecting Children, 20(1). Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.

Brittain, C., Murphy, K.C., & Wilmot, L. (2004). The CPS experience: Working with a family from beginning to end. In C. Brittain & D.E. Hunt (Eds.), Helping in child protective services: A competency-based casework handbook. New York: Oxford University Press.

Merkel-Holguin, L., & Wilmot, L. (Eds.). (2001). 2000 Family Group Decision Making Roundtable: Summary of proceedings. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.

Wilmot, L., & Ferguson, J. B. (2001). It starts before hello: The creation of a Family Group Conference program in a public agency. In L. Merkel-Holguin & L. Wilmot (Eds.), 2000 Family Group Decision Making Roundtable: Summary of proceedings. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.

Ferguson, J. B., & Wilmot, L. (2001). Who has the final say? In L. Merkel-Holguin & L. Wilmot (Eds.), 2000 Family Group Decision Making Roundtable: Summary of proceedings. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.

Wilmot, L. (2000). It's not too late: The use of FGDM processes to achieve family reunification. Protecting Children, 16(3), 34-38.

Wilmot, L. (1998). Return to family: Family Group Conferencing - The restoration of Family Decision Making. In On Balance, June 1999 edition, Dane County Juvenile Court Newsletter, Madison, WI.

Prior to her work in FGC, Leslie spent five years as an intensive family reunification specialist and another two years as a child protective services worker for her department. She was a member of the Dane County Substitute Care Review Board, which reviewed the out-of-home placements of children and worked on permanency planning concerns and ASFA compliance. In addition to her work with children and families, Leslie has 10 years of direct practice and supervisory experience in community support programs for adults with developmental disabilities.

Leslie received her undergraduate degree with a double major in community leadership and development and psychology from Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., in 1980 and her master of science in social work from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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