Workshop Presenter Bios

AFFCNY's 30 annual foster care and adoption conference

 The Coalition’s 30th Annual New York State Foster Care and Adoption Conference will be held on Thursday, May 30 – Saturday, June 1, 2019  at the Hilton Albany in Albany, New York


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Meet our Conference Workshop Presenters!

Dr. Deborah Bell is a registered psychologist from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, who has specialized in empowering children and parents for over 20 years. She has a background working with children and adults who have histories of abuse and trauma. She provides support for children and parents when children transition back home after foster care and for adoption transitions. Dr. Bell has a particular interest supporting families when the child has experienced a failed adoption and are transitioning to a new family.  Dr. Bell has extensive training in play therapy and attachment-based therapy approaches and has been part of the development and implementation of programs designed to support children living with the effects of intergenerational trauma.

Margaret A. Burt, Esq. has been an attorney specializing in child welfare issues for over 35 years and has represented agencies, birth parents, foster parents and children. She provides legal training all over the country and is active in New York state legislation affecting the child welfare system.

Bridget Callaghan is a National Health & Medical Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Columbia University’s Developmental Affective Neuroscience Laboratory. Her program of research takes a cross-species approach to examine how early experiences (particularly those of adversity) shape central and peripheral circuits that influence cognitive and emotional development. Bridgette earned her PhD in 2012 at the University of New South Wales in Australia. There, she used rodent models to study how early experiences get ‘under the skin’ to influence the development of mental health. Currently, as a NH&MRC Early Career Research Fellow, she is translating her doctoral research findings, to a human population (post-institutionalized youths). In humans she has been examining how early experiences contribute to the development of learning and memory systems, and how parents can regulate these learning processes in their children. She also works to examine how peripheral signals, e.g., the microbes in our gut, are affected by early life adversity and how they contribute to mental health across the lifespan. Bridgette is also a clinical psychologist and, as such, is am very interested in the development of new and augmented treatments for mental health problems across the lifespan.

Katherine Cohen-Filipic, Ph.D., LCSW is a foster and adoptive parent and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Ithaca College, where she teaches in the Interdisciplinary Counseling program.  She holds a Masters of Social Work and PhD in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University.  Prior to beginning her work at IC, Dr. Cohen-Filipic worked extensively in child and family mental health, where she provided clinical services to children involved in the child welfare system, first families, and foster and adoptive parents.  She has worked extensively with child welfare caseworkers to maximize success for families and minimize burnout for the child welfare and mental health workforce.  Dr. Cohen-Filipic’s research focuses on issues of guilt, blame, and shame among families of children and adolescents who experience mental health and substance abuse challenges.

John Colon has been serving families in the Hudson Valley since 1996.  He was with the Ulster County Youth Advocacy Program where he started out as an advocate and worked up to being an Assistant Director.  Later, he worked with migrant families in helping children receive high school diplomas, GEDs and continue on to higher education with The Migrant Education Outreach Program of New Paltz, N.Y.  As a foster parent who has finally had the deep joy of finalizing adoption in 2016, this work has significant meaning to him. He knows what it can be like to feel alone in a vast system and he knows the importance of listening to what a family needs and helping them attain their goals. He has worked as a case manager with Family of Woodstock and as a Family Support Specialist at the Coalition.

Kristen Anne Conklin, Esq. joined the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children as its Executive Director in August, 2018.  Prior to joining the Commission, Ms. Conklin served as Investigative Counsel in the New York State Offices of the Inspector General. Ms. Conklin has also served as a Special Assistant Attorney General in the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the New York State Office of the Attorney General.   As a Senior Assistant District Attorney in the Office of the Rockland County District Attorney, Ms. Conklin worked in the Special Investigations Unit, and led the County-wide Community Prosecution Initiative and implemented two youth-oriented programs.  Previously, Ms. Conklin served as an Assistant County Attorney for Westchester County, where she represented the Department of Social Services in the prosecution of child abuse and neglect cases in Family Court. Ms. Conklin received her undergraduate degree from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and obtained her Juris Doctor from Pace University School of Law.  She is admitted to the practice of law in both New York and Connecticut.

Elizabeth Emen, LMHC, LCPC, NCC, earned her Master’s degree in Clinical Counseling from Johns Hopkins University, and her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Vermont. Liz has specialized training and experience around issues of loss and grief, providing trauma recovery and empowerment, counseling multicultural populations, and working with adolescents. Liz incorporates her specialized training to provide therapy that integrates a variety of modalities from a humanistic and strengths based lens, including cognitive behavioral and expressive therapy interventions, Play Therapy, Theraplay, and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). Liz serves clients in the Capital Region of New York in Center for Adoption Support and Education’s (C.A.S.E.) new Albany office.

April Dinwoodie  is a transracially adopted person and nationally recognized thought leader on adoption and foster care. She is committed to improving the lives of everyone in the extended family of adoption through research, education, and advocacy. April is the creator of a specialized mentoring program Adoptment, where adults who were adopted and/or spent time in foster care serve as mentors to youth navigating foster care and adoption. To raise awareness of the many layers of the adoption experience, Dinwoodie candidly shares her experiences at workshops, conferences, school affinity groups, and via her iTunes podcast “Born in June, Raised in April.” April is particularly interested in deconstructing differences of race, class, and culture in adoption and foster care.

Dr. Andrew Fitz-Gibbon is Professor of Philosophy, Chair of the Philosophy Department, and Director of the Center for Ethics, Peace and Social Justice at the State University of New York at Cortland. He is the author, co-author or editor of 13 thirteen books and numerous book chapters and articles in peer reviewed journals. Andrew and Jane founded the Welcoming Strangers Project, an initiative of the Center for Ethics, Peace and Social Justice (CEPS) at State University of New York at Cortland, which trains foster parents and caseworkers in the principles and practice of intentional nonviolence.  They have developed the “loving nonviolent re-parenting” method for providing children in foster care a nonviolent and caring environment in which to heal from violence-induced trauma. Together, Andrew and Jane have cared for over 100 children in a foster care career spanning more than three decades.

Dr. Jane Hall Fitz-Gibbon is Coordinator for the Welcoming Strangers Project at the State University of New York at Cortland, where she is a Visiting Scholar in the Center for Ethics, Peace and Social Justice. She holds a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies and has worked in crisis support at Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga Boces School District for over fifteen years. She has extensive experience in teaching GPS-MAPP and courses on child sexual abuse. Her latest book, Corporal Punishment, Religion, and United States Public Schools, was published last year. Since 1982, she and Andrew have had over 100 children in foster care in their home.

Zachary Fried is Adoption STAR’s Compliance Director. Zack has been working in the field of adoption for 10 years, and is an adoptee. Zachary oversees compliance-related matters and provides support to prospective adoptive parents along their adoption journey. Zack also leads an Adoptee Circle of Experience(A.C.E.), which is a support group for adult adoptees.

Meg Kerney is an adoptee and an award-winning author. Meg received her degree in Poetry from the City College in New York. She is the author of a trilogy of verse novels written in the voice of adoptee Lizzie McLane, all of which are based on her own experience and come with teacher’s guides and her poetry has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. Meg is also the founding Director of the Solstice Low-Residency Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Meg is an adoptee who was placed into foster care under the auspices of the New York Foundling Hospital who was raised in Lagrange, New York.

Shawn Kittelsen is a father, a writer, an adoptee, and an advocate for adoptee rights. Since 2017, Shawn has reunited with over 50 family members. In 2018, his multi-generational reunion story was featured on the TLC series Long Lost Family. Professionally, Kittelsen is best known as a video games writer whose credits include the blockbuster fighting games Injustice 2 and Mortal Kombat 11. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, his son, and the cutest little dog ever. He is wary of social media and thinks you should spend less time on your phone.

Catherine Lewis, LCSW, MS is the Director of Community Training and the Director of the Ackerman Foster Care and Adoption Project at Ackerman Institute for the Family. Catherine has extensive experience working with families who have experienced trauma and has served in leadership positions at several New York City social service agencies. She has presented internationally, on the best practices of working with families and maintains a small private practice in New York City and Westport, Connecticut. Catherine also serves as a member of TEAM Westport in Connecticut (Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism), a town-appointed committee dedicated to diversity and inclusion.

Lisa Maynard is a social worker, who for nearly 30 years, has worked with families and children in the child welfare arena, extensively with women and children with trauma histories. She has a Master of Social Work and a Trauma Certificate from the University at Buffalo, and holds several professional certifications. Lisa is also an implementation specialist with the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.), co-owner of Adoption Center of Upstate New York and Spiral River, and the senior consultant with the National Center on Adoption and Permanency. She serves on the advisory committee of the Adoption and Foster Family Coalition (AFFCNY) and volunteers with the Mental Health Association and R.A.I.H.N.

Megan Montgomery earned her master’s degree in social work from the State University of New York at Buffalo and has been the International Adoption Coordinator at Adoption STAR since 2012. Megan began her career working with children with social-emotional disorders and/or behavioral challenges and their families. Her current focus is working with families who have chosen the international adoption path to parenthood, from initial inquiry through the completion of their post-adoption reports. Megan has presented at the Adoption Initiative, at St. John’s University, and the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC). She is also the author of a number of blog posts and articles.

Hon. Karen K. Peters, Chair, Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children, is the former Presiding Justice of New York’s Appellate Division, Third Department.  Following her graduation from New York University School of Law, Judge Peters began her legal career in private practice, later serving as an assistant district attorney in Dutchess County. She was counsel to the State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse from 1979 to 1983, then named Director of the State Assembly Government Operations Committee.  In 1983, she became the first woman elected to Ulster County’s Family Court bench. Judge Peters went on to break the glass ceiling again, becoming the first female elected to the State Supreme Court bench in New York’s 28-county Third Judicial Department in 1992 (she was re-elected in 2006); and the first woman to be named Presiding Justice of New York’s Appellate Division, Third Department, in 2012. She retired as Presiding Justice in December 2017, upon reaching mandatory retirement age.  Among her professional and civic activities, Judge Peters was charged by Chief Judge DiFiore to lead a new commission that is examining the current state of mandated legal representation for parents in Family Court and determine how best to ensure the future delivery of quality, cost-effective parental representation. She also chairs the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on the State Constitution, is a member of the New York State court system’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics and has been a member of the Permanent Commission on Justice for Children since January 2015.  Judge Peters is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Howard A. Levine Award for Excellence in Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare, the Betty Weinberg Ellerin Mentoring Award, and the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society’s Public Service Leadership Award.

Kimberly Paglino, MSW, is an Implementation Specialist with the Center for Adoption Support and Education, providing support to states, child welfare agencies and universities participating in the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative (NTI). She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Loyola University in Maryland, and a Master’s in Social Work degree from Monmouth University in New Jersey. Kimberly previously served as an instructor in higher education, teaching in areas including Social Welfare Policy and Services, Human Rights and Social Justice, and Family Violence. Kimberly has professional experience in child welfare with a focus on adoption and served as the Program Director for the Donaldson Adoption Institute. She also enjoys writing and has authored pieces on a variety of issues related to adoption and foster care.

Kylie Regan is an international adoptee from Russia, who came to the United States at the age of two. She recently earned her Bachelors degree from SUNY New Paltz in Sociology with a concentration in Human Services. In 2015, she volunteered as an adult adoptee mentor for middle school and high school adoptees through the Modern Family Center at Spence Chapin in Manhattan. When she moved to New Paltz in 2015, she got involved volunteering and interning for the Coalition. During her time as a volunteer and intern, she has served on the “This is Us” panel, represented the Coalition at the annual Youth Incorporated Banquet, and assisted with a variety of research projects and workshops in the Hudson Valley region. She is eager to work as an advocate for continued services for adoptive, foster, and kinship families in her future.

Maya Rege-Colt, MSW, LICSW is a social worker in Florence, Massachusetts. Maya specializes in social work and clinical social work. Maya has been a service provider to parents, teens and young children in a variety of settings for over 25 years. She has a strong foundation in early childhood development, family work, group facilitation, and peer counseling. Maya has been on the Regional Response Team of Adoption Journeys since 2004 providing clinical services to families, providing training to professionals, and facilitating groups for parents and for teens. Maya especially loves groups and as a first-generation Indian-American, issues of identity, racism and the importance of connection to culture consistently inform her work.

Pamela Rothfeld is a special educator, literacy coach, mother of two boys through private open adoptions and a former foster parent. As the owner of 2Boys Adoption Social Media Marketing, she has been teaching teachers and adoptive families how to use the internet to connect with others for more than seven years. She is also the leader for three multinational Facebook support groups – Single Parent Adoption Support, Adoptive Parents of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) Kiddos and Foster Parents of NAS Kiddos. She is a longtime member of Long Island Adoptive Families and helps our members as one of the administrative team members.

Debbie B. Riley, LCMFT, The Center for Adoption Support and Education’s (C.A.S.E.) co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, earned her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and her Bachelor’s Degree in Family Studies from the University of Maryland. Since C.A.S.E.’s inception in 1998, Debbie has grown the organization into a national and international mental health resource for foster and adoptive families as well as for the professionals who support them. Debbie is the co-author of the book, Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens. She is a member of the C.A.S.E. Team who produced the companion book, Beneath the Mask: For Teen Adoptees, and is a key contributor to professional publications. Debbie is also the founder of Training for Adoption Competency Curriculum (TAC) currently and serves as the Principal Investigator to establish a National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative (NTI). Debbie is also the proud recipient of the Children’s Bureau 2015 Adoption Excellence Award.

Dr. Elaine Schulte is a board-certified pediatrician and adoption medicine specialist.  Dr. Schulte earned her medical degree at Albany Medical College and completed her pediatric residency and preventive medicine training at Albany Medical Center Hospital, during which time she also earned her Master’s in Public Health, after which she then joined the faculty at Albany Medical College. During her tenure in Albany, Dr. Schulte served as the pediatric residency program director and the division chief of general pediatrics. In 1996, she founded the International Adoption Program, which she directed until 2007, when she moved to the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Schulte was the Chair of the Department of General Pediatrics at the Cleveland Clinic until 2017 and was also the Medical Director of the Adoption Program at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. Currently, Dr. Schulte is the Vice Chair for Academic Affairs and Faculty Development at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, where she is also the medical director of the newly formed Adoption Program. The Adoption Program offers pre-adoption consultation, post-adoption evaluations and ongoing medical care for adopted children and their families. Dr. Schulte is an active member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Foster Care, Adoption and Kinship Care. She is the author of “Caring for Your Adopted Child; An Essential Guide for Parents” published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Jessica Sinarski, LPCMH is a clinical supervisor, consultant, author and educator. Compelled by her work with foster families in the South Bronx of New York, Jessica became a Certified Adoption Therapist in 2008 through Hunter College School of Social Work and began an adoption therapy program at her local agency. She earned a master’s degree from Boston College in Counseling Psychology following a B.A. in Psychology and Spanish from Taylor University. Jessica is a thought-leader in connecting neuroscience with practice in adult-child relationships. Jessica has trained thousands of parents and professionals across the country and maintains a private practice in Delaware, incorporating neurofeedback and attachment-based therapeutic models. Jessica has been consulting with schools, agencies and parent groups since 2005. She is currently partnering with school districts and child welfare agencies to better incorporate trauma-sensitive practices into their work. She has created a framework based on the concepts introduced in her children’s book, Riley the Brave (available in English and Spanish), that is improving outcomes for those affected by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

Danielle Skelly is the mother of ten – four biological children and six through adoption – and a longtime foster parent. She is a staunch advocate for all children. She spent eight years as a MAPP trainer and caseworker with You Gotta Believe, helping older teens find permanent homes. She also has served as a trustee on the South Country School Board of Education. In May 2017, she joined the Coalition as a Long Island Family Support Specialist for AGAPE, the Coalition’s post-adoption and post-guardianship support program.

John Sobraske is an adoptee and a stepparent of adopted children. He is an adoption psychotherapist in private practice living in Rochester. John regularly provides training and consultation on foster care and adoption and his research interests related to adoption include anthropology, media and mythology and the application of natural medicine and body-mind methods of healing. As a graduate fellow at the University of Minnesota, he participated in research on open adoption and early stress and his is research interests include adoption, foster care, attachment, trauma and executive function.  John was voted “best clinician” by the Monroe County Youth and Family Partnership. He is a former Coalition board member and a current member of the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York’s Advisory Committee.

Nancy Solow, MSW, LICSW is the Regional Manager for the Western office of Adoption Journeys, a state-wide post-adoption support program of Child and Family Services, Inc.  Nancy has worked with Adoption Journeys since 2003, providing clinical post-adoption support to a wide variety of adoptive and guardianship families, running support groups for parents and teens, and offering training in the community focusing on trauma and attachment disorders. Nancy is also a certified teacher for the Training in Adoption Competence (TAC), a year-long course created by the Center for Adoption Support and Education. Previous to her work at Adoption Journeys, Nancy worked for Casey Family Services in Vermont and as a clinician in various outpatient settings. Nancy and her husband of 30 years are parents of a daughter currently in college, and are adjusting to their quieter household by tending bees in their back yard.

Melba J. Nicolson Sulllivan, PhD. is Freedom Facilitator, psychologist and faculty member at the US Citizenship and Immigration Service-Refugee Asylum-International Operations. Melba is also a stress and resilience counselor at Human Rights Watch and a consultant at the Ackerman Institute. She is the former Director of Education and Training and Trauma Track Coordinator at Bellevue New York University Program for Survivors of Torture. Dr. Sullivan is also the former Director of Community Outreach Programs at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.

Christine Tangel is a licensed clinical social worker with over 10 years of experience working with children and families in New York City.   She has provided direct service and supervision in various aspects of child welfare, including preventive services and foster care. She has also supported families advocating for their children’s needs in the special education system.  In her current role at Spence-Chapin, she provides therapy for members of the adoption constellation and families experiencing crisis. She also facilitates professional trainings and coaching sessions on adoption and permanency related themes.

Dr. Nim Tottenham, PhD is a Professor of Psychology at Columbia University and Director of the Developmental Affective Neuroscience Laboratory. Nim’s research examines brain development underlying emotional behavior in humans. Her research has highlighted fundamental changes in brain circuitry across development and the powerful role that early experiences, such as caregiving and stress, have on the construction of these circuits. She has authored over 90 journal articles and book chapters. She is an international lecturer on human brain and emotional development. Nim is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, and her scientific contributions have been recognized by the National Institute of Mental Health Biobehavioral Research Awards for Innovative New Scientists (BRAINS) Award, the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology and the Developmental Science Early Career Researcher Prize.

Rosie Williams entered foster care at eight months old, and spent the next twenty years placed in more than thirty foster care placements, including foster homes, group homes, residential treatment centers and hospitals. When she was nineteen, Williams met a woman named Danielle, who made to her a commitment of unconditional love and support, earning the right to be called Mom. With that support and encouragement (and late-night tutoring), Williams earned her GED. Now twenty-four, she serves as an advocate for youth with You Gotta Believe’s Nobody Ages Out youth movement, sharing her powerful, thoughtful message that family is every youth’s right.


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