Staff

Megan Finno-Velasquez, PhD

Director

Megan Finno-Velasquez, PhD, MSW, is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Center on Immigration and Child Welfare in the School of Social Work at New Mexico State University, in Albuquerque, NM. Dr. Finno-Velasquez has spent the past 14 years working at the intersection of child welfare and immigration issues, as a child welfare practitioner, administrator, and researcher. Her research centers around the impact of immigration policy on child welfare system experiences, culturally competent maltreatment prevention strategies, and improving child welfare service system response to the needs of immigrant families. In 2019, Dr. Finno-Velasquez was appointed Director of Immigration Affairs for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department in a position split with her professorship at NMSU, where she is working to build an immigration unit to improve policies and practices to support immigrant and refugee children along the Mexico border and throughout the state. Dr. Finno-Velasquez received her PhD from the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work in 2015 and completed post-doctoral work with the Children’s Data Network. She was a recipient of the Doris Duke Fellowships for the Promotion of Child-Well-being during her doctoral work. She completed her MSW from New Mexico Highlands University in 2007, and has a BS in Psychology and Spanish from the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign.

Anayeli Lopez, MSW, PhD

Faculty Affiliate

Anayeli Lopez, PhD, MSW, is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at New Mexico State University, in Las Cruces, NM. Dr. Lopez received dual Ph.D. degrees in Social Welfare from Boston College and ITESO-Jesuit University of Guadalajara in 2009. During her doctoral studies she was the recipient of the Fellowship in International Social Welfare at Boston College-ITESO. Dr. Lopez practiced social work in Indiana, where she developed educational interventions, conducted outreach, and developed partnerships between local schools, community leaders, and Latino immigrant families to increase awareness and access to higher education. Dr. Lopez also holds several years of experience conducting research on Latino immigrant families and children using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Her research focuses on the impact of immigration enforcement on the well-being of immigrant families and children and addressing the service need of this population. She has conducted research to better understand the familial, social, and educational realities of Latino immigrant families in North Central Indiana, including those who are undocumented. She has also examined the outcomes of unaccompanied children from Central America in long-term foster care. Most recently, Dr. Lopez served as the consultant of an evaluation study for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program in Honduras, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some of the outcomes of her work include several refereed conference presentations and publications in peer-reviewed academic articles.

Sophia Sepp, LMSW, MPH, CHES

Program Manager

Sophia Sepp is a graduate of the dual Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health program at New Mexico State University. She received a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service with a focus on international politics at Georgetown University in 2014. Following her graduation, she moved to Las Cruces, NM to participate in a yearlong service program with Border Servant Corps (BSC), serving at Jardin de los Niños, which provides early childhood education and supportive services to children ages 6 weeks to 10-years-old and their families who are experiencing homelessness. Following her year of service, she became the Program Coordinator for the Border Servant Corps yearlong program and also provided support to the BSC border immersion and refugee hospitality programs. Her experience with Border Servant Corps and at Jardin de los Niños as well as a passion for working with children and immigrant communities inspired her to pursue a career in social work and public health. During her MSW program, she completed field practicum experiences with the CICW and the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD), Protective Services Division as a Child Welfare Scholar. Upon graduation, she worked as an In-Home Services Practitioner with NM CYFD, working directly with children and families to reduce the risk of future maltreatment. She now serves as the CICW's full-time program manager, coordinating and managing the Center's ongoing projects and providing administrative support.

Advisory Committee

The CICW Advisory Committee consists of national experts and leaders in the field of immigration and child welfare. The Advisory Committee sets the agenda of the Center and oversees the Center’s products and activities.

Jodi Berger Cardoso, PhD, MSSW

Assistant Professor, Graduate College of Social Work, University of Houston

Dr. Berger Cardoso’s research examines how exposure to trauma and psychosocial stress before, during and post-migration affects the mental health of immigrants and their children. She has received external funding to examine the unique stressors associated parenting in the context of deportation risk and the trauma, stress, and coping experiences among unaccompanied Latino migrant children in Texas. The later study focused on understanding how trauma in the country of origin influenced adverse risk outcomes, such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance use behaviors following migration. Currently, Dr. Berger Cardoso is participating in a National Institute of Drug Abuse training program to develop a clinical trial to enhance an evidenced-based trauma intervention to include substance abuse prevention for middle school youth. Her long-term goal is to become a leading NIH-funded researcher and to develop culturally responsive evidenced based interventions to prevent mental health and substance use disorders among Latino immigrants and their children. She has published extensively on immigration, mental health, and trauma. In addition to this line of research, Dr. Berger Cardoso works with several humanitarian organizations in the Houston area that focus on providing legal and mental health services to immigrants, unaccompanied minor youth, and refugees that have experienced trauma. She has served as an expert witness in gender-based violence and child trauma cases. Recently, at the invitation of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Dr. Berger Cardoso joined The Welcoming Houston Task Force, a new initiative that aims to enhance inclusion and lasting economic integration of new Americans through public policy and by implementing community-based initiatives. Before getting a Ph.D. in social work, Dr. Cardoso was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador (1999-2002) and worked as bilingual mental health clinician serving Latino immigrant families at several agencies in the New York and Houston area.

Lara Bruce, MSW

Project Director, CO Child Welfare Scholars Consortium (CCWSC), Social Work Department, Metropolitan State University of Denver

As the Project Director for the CCWSC, Ms. Bruce supports the implementation and growth of this Title IV-E program as the lead administrator and university for the Consortium. In this position, Ms. Bruce oversees strategic planning, needs assessments, project operations, and budgeting. She is also involved in the recruitment, selection and support to eligible BSSW and MSW child welfare scholars, from interest in the program to post-graduation employment. Ms. Bruce has previous experience as an MSW field instructor and field liaison. She is currently an Adjunct Faculty and Field Liaison for the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver.
Previous experience also includes work related to organizational development and capacity building with child and family serving organization. Ms. Bruce has been responsible for curriculum development, training and coaching, and research and evaluation on a variety of topics related to child welfare and workforce development. Ms. Bruce received her bachelor’s degree in social work from SUNY Plattsburgh. She received her MSW from the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver, concentrating in community practice.

Emily Butera

Senior Policy Advisor for Immigration, Open Society Foundations

Emily Butera serves as Senior Policy Advisor for immigration at the Open Society Foundations. An expert on the protection of families dually affected by the U.S. immigration and child welfare systems, Emily’s work focuses on mitigating the effects of immigration enforcement, detention and removal on family unity, parental rights and child well-being.
Emily has extensive experience advocating before Congress and executive agencies on a wide range of issues including detention reform, the protection of unaccompanied children, and gender inclusivity in immigration law and policy. Emily also conducts field-based research on detention and asylum policy and has authored numerous reports on these subjects including Locking up Family Values, the Women’s Refugee Commission’s groundbreaking report on family detention, and Torn Apart by Immigration Enforcement, the first ever national report on parental rights in immigration detention.
In addition to her work with the Women’s Refugee Commission, Emily has worked as an advocate, writer, policy strategist and program manager for local and national immigrant and refugee rights organizations including Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Catholic Legal Immigration Network and Asian Human Services, as well as for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Emily holds a B.A. from Kenyon College and an M.A. in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Jorge Cabrera, MSW

Senior Director, San Diego Field Office, Casey Family Programs

Jorge Cabrera is Senior Director for Casey Family Programs. Casey is a national operating foundation based in Seattle, WA. that provides direct services to foster youth and engages in collaborative and systems improvement efforts in partnership with the public child welfare system and other community organizations. In addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations of the direct services in the Casey San Diego field offices, Cabrera leads Casey’s Strategic Consulting work in San Diego and Orange Counties, California and in Puerto Rico.
Mr. Cabrera has a Masters in Social Work (MSW) degree from Arizona State University. Prior to his work in Casey, Cabrera worked in Tucson, Arizona as a family therapist with a focus on serving Latino families and children who were involved in the child welfare system.
Jorge has a strong interest and experience in building partnerships that effectively impact the lives and well-being of children and families of color. He has been a presenter at national conferences focusing on the development of collaborative efforts that best serve kinship care families, the intersection of immigration and child welfare and the delivery of clinical services to underserved populations.
Cabrera has been involved on the Advisory Board for the Center for Immigration and Child Welfare (formerly the Migration and Child Welfare National Network) since its inception.
In addition he serves on The California Evidenced-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (CEBC) advisory committee, which is tasked with informing the child welfare community about the research evidence for programs being used or marketed in California and was a past member of The Chadwick Trauma-Informed Systems Project (CTISP), which provided leadership in the development of tools and resources to advance the capacity of systems to develop trauma informed care in the child welfare system.

Wendy Cervantes, MA

Director, Immigration and Immigrant Families, Center on Law and Social Policy

Wendy Cervantes oversees CLASP’s cross-team work to develop and advocate for policies that support low-income immigrants and their families. She is an expert on the cross-sector policy issues that impact children of immigrants, including economic security, child welfare, immigration, education, health care, and human rights.
Prior to joining CLASP, Ms. Cervantes was Vice President of Immigration and Child Rights at First Focus where she led the organization’s federal policy work on immigration and established the Center for the Children of Immigrants. Ms. Cervantes also served as Director of Programs at La Plaza, a Latino community-based organization in central Indiana, where she oversaw the implementation and evaluation of education, health, and social service programs. Earlier in her career, Ms. Cervantes worked at the Annie E. Casey Foundation where she managed the national immigrant and refugee families and the District of Columbia portfolios. She also has experience as a community organizer and an adult ESL instructor.
The proud daughter of Mexican immigrants, Ms. Cervantes holds an M.A. in Latin American Studies and Political Science from the University of New Mexico and a B.A. in Communications from the University of Southern California.Prior to joining CLASP, Ms. Cervantes was Vice President of Immigration and Child Rights at First Focus where she led the organization’s federal policy work on immigration and established the Center for the Children of Immigrants. Ms. Cervantes also served as Director of Programs at La Plaza, a Latino community-based organization in central Indiana, where she oversaw the implementation and evaluation of education, health, and social service programs. Earlier in her career, Ms. Cervantes worked at the Annie E. Casey Foundation where she managed the national immigrant and refugee families and the District of Columbia portfolios. She also has experience as a community organizer and an adult ESL instructor.
Ms. Cervantes currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Center on Immigration and Child Welfare and the Board of Welcome.US. The proud daughter of Mexican immigrants, Ms. Cervantes holds an M.A. in Latin American Studies and Political Science from the University of New Mexico and a B.A. in Communications from the University of Southern California.

Cristina Ritchie Cooper

Senior Attorney, ABA Center on Children and the Law

Cristina Ritchie Cooper is a Senior Attorney with the ABA Center on Children and the Law. As Program Director of Center’s Immigration and Child Welfare Project, Cristina supports courts and agencies working with immigrant children, immigrant parents and kin with children in or at risk of entering the dependency system, and child welfare and immigration attorneys who seek to understand their clients’ legal needs in both fields. Cristina also works with state courts through the Children’s Bureau’s Capacity Building Center for Courts, which helps Court Improvement Programs identify priorities and achieve their goals. Additionally, Cristina is part of the Permanency Barriers Project, which helps Pennsylvania courts and agencies reduce the time children spend in foster care.
Prior to joining the ABA, Cristina represented children and youth in dependency cases in the Bronx, NY, and represented youth in protection order and family law matters in Washington, DC. In previous roles, she has advocated for court improvements in Washington, DC and for enhanced federal programs affecting children in low-income families. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and Princeton University.

Alan Dettlaff, PhD

Dean and Maconda Brown O’Connor Endowed Dean’s Chair Graduate College of Social Work, University of Houston

Alan J. Dettlaff is Dean of the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston and the inaugural Maconda Brown O’Connor Endowed Dean’s Chair. Prior to joining the University of Houston, Dean Dettlaff served on the faculty of the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He received his bachelor’s degree in social work from TCU, and master’s in social work and PhD from the University of Texas at Arlington. Dean Dettlaff’s research focuses on improving outcomes for children and youth in the child welfare system through examining and addressing the factors contributing to racial disparities and improving cultural responsiveness.

Monica Faulkner, PhD, MSW

Research Associate Professor, Steve Hicks School of Social Work, University of Texas at Austin

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 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.
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 undocumented Latino parents, permanency of foster youth, and educational outcomes of foster youth.
Additionally, Dr. Faulkner consults with non-profits on program design, data management, and general strategic planning. She is a certified Dare to Lead Facilitator and conducts workshops that bring Dare to LeadTM principles into non-profit agencies.
Dr. Faulkner serves as the Chair for the Higher Education Workgroup for the Education Committee of the Children’s Commission, and as a board member for both the Healthy Teen Network and Education Reach for Texas, respectively. She is also one of the foster care liaisons at The University of Texas at Austin, where she co-launched SPARK, a program that works to assist former foster youth on campus. She also provides support to Girasol, a program that helps Texas immigrant children and families to heal from trauma through support, education, and connection.

Robin Hernandez-Mekonnen, PhD, MSW

Associate Professor, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Stockton University

Robin Hernandez-Mekonnen PhD, MSW (University of Pennsylvania), is an Associate Professor of Social Work and faculty of the Child Welfare Education Institute at Stockton University. Dr. Hernandez-Mekonnen has 20 years of child welfare experience and has been engaged research and policy work for the past decade. Her areas of interest are child welfare, system reform, Title IV-E and workforce improvement, intersection of child welfare and immigration, Mexican diaspora, and mixed method research and policy. With an emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration, Dr. Hernandez-Mekonnen has worked on a number of influential projects and reform efforts on the behalf of children and families in the Delaware Valley and nationally. Currently, Dr. Hernandez- Mekonnen’s work is focusing on the New Jersey Child Welfare system reform. Her primary graduate teaching includes Social Welfare Policy, Research Methods, and Trauma Informed Child Welfare Practice. She also teaches an international studies course, Child Migration and U.S. Immigration Policy, within which she takes students to Guatemala for 10 days to work with a nonprofit indigenous re-integration program for youth returned from the U.S. and Mexico.

Rachel Prandini

Staff Attorney, Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Rachel Prandini is one of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center's staff attorneys based in San Francisco. Rachel focuses on immigrant youth issues, including unaccompanied minors and immigrant youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Rachel provides technical assistance and trainings to immigration and state court attorneys, social workers, and judges. She works on statewide and national policy that affects the rights of immigrant youth and is frequently consulted for her expertise in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Rachel co-authored the ILRC’s publication Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and Other Immigration Options for Children and Youth.
Prior to joining the ILRC, Rachel represented detained and released unaccompanied minors in removal defense and led a project focusing on Special Immigrant Juvenile Status at Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project in Los Angeles. While at Esperanza, Rachel also performed ``Know Your Rights`` work in southern California immigration detention centers for minors. Previously, Rachel worked as an associate at Paul Hastings, LLP and volunteered as a Child Advocate for unaccompanied minors.
Rachel earned her law degree from the University of California at Davis, where she was a member of the Immigration Law Clinic and worked on complex deportation defense cases and detention issues. She received her undergraduate degree from Westmont College, where she double-majored in philosophy and political science. Rachel is admitted to the bar in California. She is conversant in Spanish.
Angie's areas of expertise include: Special Immigrant Juvenile Status & Other Immigration Forms of Relief, and Crossover between immigration and the juvenile justice systems, including immigration consequences of delinquency, Immigration enforcement and its impact on children and families.

Gretchen Test, MSW

Director, New Program Development, Children’s Community Programs of Connecticut

Gretchen is the Director of New Program Development at the Children’s Community Programs of Connecticut. She has over 15 years of experience managing large public child welfare system improvement efforts. She is passionate about ensuring youth and family involvement in reform. Previously she led Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Child Welfare Strategy Group's kinship and foster care work with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, which increased the percentage of children living with kin from 14% to over 30% and reduced use of group placements by nearly 60%. She also served on teams working with the Maryland and South Carolina child welfare agencies. She co-created the foundation’s Every Kid Needs a Family policy approach to ensure children in foster care live in a family, and helped manage the foundation’s Family to Family Initiative and related grants in 18 states. She directed the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators at the American Public Human Services Association, and developed domestic violence programs in the Seattle Mayor’s Office for Women’s Rights, King County (Seattle, WA) Human Services Department, and Refugee Women’s Alliance. Gretchen is a founding member of the Alliance for Racial Equity and the Center on Immigration and Child Welfare, and served on the Steering Committee for the federal Greenbook Initiative to improve collaboration among child protection, domestic violence and the courts. She is a board member of the Foster Family-Based Treatment Association, and the Family Builders Network, as well as Casey’s LGBTQ Workgroup. She leads a foundation workgroup on immigration, child welfare and juvenile justice. In 2014 she received the Tom Welch Unsung Heroes Award from Youth Law Center in San Francisco. Gretchen has an MSW from the University of Washington and a BA from the University of Rhode Island, and has served as a practicum instructor for Howard University, University of Maryland and University of Pennsylvania Schools of Social Work.