GROW Center Advisory Committee


Announcing the GROW Center Advisory Committee

This Advisory Committee brings together volunteers with invaluable expertise and experience to contribute to the transformation of the child welfare system in the state of Florida. The Advisory Committee will serve to provide informed guidance, professional expertise, stakeholder experience, and advice to GROW Center staff. GROW Center Advisory Committee members will bridge the gap between organizations, child welfare professionals, and advocate for GROW Center initiatives. The vision statement leading the Committee's work asks members to promote, uphold, and advocate for the GROW Center’s innovation of child welfare curricula, support of child welfare professionals, and transformation of the child welfare workplace throughout the state of Florida.


The Committee will be organized to ensure that each member’s activities and decisions are in the best interest of the GROW Center with the election of roles including Committee Chair and Vice-Chair. The member elected as Committee Chair will exemplify a commitment to the GROW Center’s and Florida Institute for Child Welfare’s missions, while similarly, the Vice-Chair will offer support and leadership when needed. The Advisory Committee Secretary will be appointed to their position. The expectations of Committee Members include programmatic advising and input, leveraging of networks to spread awareness of the GROW Center, serving as an ambassador to increase visibility and engagement within the broader community, and other critical activities which serve to represent the GROW Center’s programs and initiatives in the community. 

If you are interested in learning more about the GCAC, please enter your name and email address here to join a priority email list to directly receive additional information. 

Committee Members

Angie Abbot

Learning and Professional Development Specialist 
Safe Children Coalition 

Angela Abbot is a learning and professional development specialist at the Safe Children Coalition, a community-based care lead agency in the Suncoast region. An educator of 15+ years, Angie is passionate about creating dynamic learning experiences, providing tools for professionals to advance their practice, and implementing solutions to improve processes. She is a graduate of the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and education. 

Barbara Byrne, L.C.S.W.

Project Director 
Evidence Based Associates  

Barbara Byrne began her career in child welfare providing direct services and has since dedicated over 25 years to teaching mindfulness to youth and adults in a variety of settings. Barbara was professionally trained as a mindfulness teacher through The University of California San Diego Mindfulness Institute and University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. She has also trained and mentored masters level practitioners in mindfulness. Ms. Byrne now serves as an administrator of evidence-based services with the organization Evidence Based Associates. In her role with Evidence Based Associates, mindfulness training is provided in person or virtually on topics including mindfulness in a corporate setting, schools, stress management/ burnout, and overall wellness.  

Ms. Byrne shares that she enjoys her current position as it allows her to return to the arena of direct child welfare services and gives her the opportunity to provide training for child welfare agencies. Ms. Byrne’s experience in the field includes working with youth and families in schools, juvenile justice, community-based agencies, and owning her own private practice. During her time, she has gained valuable insight to working with youth and families of different backgrounds including the LGBTQ community. Ms. Byrne is grateful that her chosen profession has afforded her the privilege of creating meaningful connections with others while also truly making a difference in her community. She shares why she believes mindfulness training is so critical, “Mindfulness provides powerful tools to understand and better manage life, allowing us to be our best selves, and respond with our best intentions for ourselves and those we work with and care about.” 

Ryan Capone 

Operations and Management Consultant Manager 
Department of Children and Families 

Ryan Capone has worked with The Department of Children and Families since 2010 and currently serves as a Family Safety Specialist and Pre-Service Trainer for the Child Protective Investigator program. In her current position as Family Safety Specialist, she compiles and presents quantitative and qualitative performance data to assist in identifying training needs based on skills gaps identified in data trends. Ms. Capone has represented the Southeast Region in statewide technology workgroups and functions as a liaison providing support for roll-out initiatives. She has dedicated herself to regional retention efforts through conducting exit interviews, compiling data, conducting focus groups, and participating in retention planning and events. Ms. Capone is committed to the field of child welfare and consistently surpasses expectations within her work. She takes pride in approaching her work with positivity, energy, and a solution-oriented mindset. Ms. Capone shares that she is open to feedback and continually seeks opportunities to learn and grow. 

Lisa Coy 

Assistant Program Director 
The Center for Child Welfare at USF 

Lisa Coy has dedicated 25 years to working with families in the child welfare system providing support to front line workers. Ms. Coy has held a variety of roles including case management, staff supervision, operations management, training, program evaluation, and information collection and dissemination using technology. Before beginning her career in child welfare, Ms. Coy taught children in daycare, as well as swimming lessons for children and adults. She shares that during her time providing direct services she was most satisfied when helping families to keep or regain custody of their children. She then found that providing mentorship and supervision to new staff to facilitate their growth in the field was equally or more fulfilling. Ms. Coy discovered a passion for assisting other professionals to reach their potential and find satisfaction in their work with families.  

After transitioning to an administrative and supervisory role, Ms. Coy began to see child welfare from a different perspective. She found a wealth of information which is available to improve practice in supporting families, recognizing and responding to trauma, and caring for the workforce. Since 2007 when Ms. Coy began working with the Center for Child Welfare, she has developed a new skillset which enables her to improve the system by sharing information within the field. She accomplishes this through activities including program and training evaluation to identify recommendations for system redesign; knowledge management and information sharing, and development of training to support the workforce and the system on state and national levels. Ms. Coy acknowledges that the system is ever-changing, and it is crucial that information finds its way to front-line workers. 

Devin D. Coleman 

Fatherhood Engagement Consultant
Devin D. Coleman & Associates  

Devin D. Coleman is an author, public speaker, and single father whose work embodies the art of turning tragedy into triumph. Devin served as a Board Member of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Duval Regional Juvenile Detention Center, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid's Client Advisory Board, Chairman of the Fatherhood Initiative Task Force in Jacksonville, and FL MIECHV Needs Assessment Steering Committee. Devin currently serves on the Nurse-Family Partnership Florida Expansion Advisory Committee, Florida Child Abuse Prevention Advisory Council, and Florida Institute of Child Welfare. Devin's mission is to work with companies and organizations that serve men to offer them tools to reach their full potential. He is sensitive to the needs of men who've been impacted by the Justice System and seek to assist in lowering the recidivism rate as well as bridging the family gap. Devin believes success in this area will create stronger men, families, and communities. This passion has created opportunities for Devin to participate (speaking and workshops) at various events across the nation.  

Natalia Giordano, LCSW 

Clinical Assistant Teaching Professor 
Florida International University School of Social Work

Natalia Giordano is a Clinical Assistant Teaching Professor at Florida International University’s School of Social Work. Natalia also teaches practice courses at FIU with the hope of instilling a passion for social work and child welfare in the next generation of social workers. Ms. Giordano completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Florida earning a bachelor's degree in Sociology. She later went on to attend the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service where she graduated with her master's degree in social work in 2006. 

 In 2006, Ms. Giordano began her work in child welfare as a case manager in the Teen Foster Care Unit at the Children’s Aid Society in New York City. Ms. Giordano provided services to young adults aging out of the system including case management, life coaching, education and life skill development, and designing and implementing employment programming. She later became the social worker and director of the Next Generation Center, a drop-in center for system-involved youth and young adults in the South Bronx. In 2013, Ms. Giordano moved back to Miami and took on the role of Program Director at Casa Valentina. In 2016, Ms. Giordano joined the faculty at FIU as the Title IV-E Child Welfare Stipend Program Coordinator and moved into full-time teaching after the program was discontinued. Ms. Giordano provides clinical support and supervision to local organizations focused on child welfare and/or adolescents and has clinically supervised over 30 professionals and social work interns. 

Amy O’Brien Hines

Director of Education and Training  
Department of Children and Families  

Amy Hines serves as the Director of Education and Training for the Department of Children and Families. She began her career in education twenty years ago and worked in administration at both private and public schools. Amy has a passion for creating a culture of continuous learning for the Department workforce by prioritizing engagement, connection, and wellness. She is a graduate of Rhodes College for her undergraduate studies, as well as an alumnus of Florida State University where she earned her master's degree in Humanities and Humanistic studies. Amy is an avid runner and mom to three beautiful children. 

 Kenneth J. Kilian, Ph.D. 

Director of the Child Protective Investigations Division 
Pasco Sheriff’s Office 

Dr. Ken Kilian was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and went on to attend college at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Here he played for four years on Northwestern’s baseball team and earned his Bachelor of Science in Education and Social Policy. Following graduation, Dr. Kilian relocated to the Tampa Bay area in 1999, beginning his career in child protective services with the Department of Children and Families. In 2001, he transitioned to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office as a child protective investigator (CPI). During his ten-year tenure in Pinellas County, Dr. Kilian served as a mentor, trainer, and supervisor. Dr. Kilian also served as a member of the Critical Incident Stress Management team (C.I.S.M.) which lends peer support to agency members involved in traumatic incidents. In 2011, Dr. Kilian began his current role in leading the Pasco Sheriff’s Office Child Protective Investigations Division.  

Dr. Kilian believes that education helps individuals to grow and develop. This passion for education led Dr. Kilian to earn a Master of Science in Criminal Justice at Saint Leo University, as well as his Ph.D. in Criminal Justice. Dr. Kilian is active in the Pasco County community serving as a governing board member of Pasco Kids First, Inc., member of the Pasco County Commission on Human Trafficking, a graduate of Leadership Pasco, and numerous other child welfare committees and workgroups. Additionally, Dr. Kilian serves as an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida and Saint Leo University where he teaches a self-designed child welfare curriculum as well as criminal justice courses. Dr. Kilian has also spearheaded an innovative internship program with Saint Leo University, which has since been modeled across Florida. During his career, Dr. Kilian has presented at child welfare summits, county stakeholder discussions, human trafficking seminars, and other events supporting child welfare. In his free time, Dr. Kilian enjoys spending time with family and friends. 

Erin A. King, PhD, LCSW 

Assistant Professor 
Department of Social Work, University of West Florida 

Dr. Erin King is an assistant professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of West Florida. Dr. King holds a clinical social work license (LCSW) in the State of Florida and earned her PhD in Social Work from Florida State University in 2019. Her practice background includes hospital social work; school social work; work with domestic violence in the court system; mental health counseling with children, adolescents, and adults; and substance abuse counseling with women. Dr. King has aided with the Florida Institute of Child Welfare in their work on the Florida Study of Professionals for Safe Families since its inception and has contributed to several research publications associated with the study.  

Dr. King’s dissertation was conducted on the effects of primary and secondary trauma on child welfare workers' mental health and the influence on worker turnover. Her primary area of research interest is that of the mental health and well-being of individuals exposed to work-related trauma. Dr. King participated in both quantitative and qualitative studies related to child welfare workers and more recently worked under a SAMHSA grant related to the trauma exposure and mental health of first responders. Dr. King believes strongly that child welfare workers are vital to promoting child well-being and preventing abuse and neglect, while the safety, permanence, and well-being outcomes of children are negatively impacted by the high rate of turnover in front-line child welfare workers. 

Bethany Lacey 

Executive Director 
Boys Town South Florida 

Bethany Lacey is a native of Tallahassee, Florida. She holds a bachelor's degree in Christian Counseling from the Baptist College of Florida and a master's degree in Counseling and Psychology from Troy University. Ms. Lacey began her career in child welfare 17 years ago as a dependency case manager in Central Florida and she currently holds a certification in Child Protection through the Florida Certification Board. She began her career at Boys Town Central Florida in 2006 as an In-Home Family Services (IHFS) Consultant.  

Ms. Lacey’s leadership in her organization earned her the promotion of IHFS Supervisor and then Director where she oversaw all In-Home and Care Coordination services for the site in addition to coordinating the Common-Sense Parenting program. In 2017, Ms. Lacey joined the Boys Town North Florida team as Senior Director of Program Operations. In this role, Ms. Lacey oversaw the operations of multiple programs including In-home Family Services, Care Coordination, Common Sense Parenting, Foster Family Services, and the Family Home Program. While in North Florida, she gained valuable management and leadership experience and took on the role of Executive director of Boys Town South Florida. Ms. Lacey began in this role in 2021 bringing experience including fundraising, community relations, marketing, licensing, and quality assurance to the Executive Director position. 

René N. Ledford, MSW, LCSW, BCBA 

Senior Director of Research, Training and Accreditation 
Children’s Home Society of Florida 

René Ledford is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Board-Certified Behavior Analyst with over 30 years of direct care and leadership experience in child welfare and behavioral health. Her experience, as both a provider and administrator, includes residential, child welfare, and behavioral health services. Ms. Ledford is a graduate of the FSU Harris Institute Infant Mental Health program and is trained in trauma-informed interventions including Child Parent Psychotherapy and Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has developed and presented numerous local and national continuing education workshops and webinars. This includes being a contract CE curriculum writer. Additionally, she is a Council on Accreditation (COA) Peer Reviewer and former President of the Association for Talent Development, Central Florida Chapter. For her leadership in the areas of equity and inclusion and social work practice, Rene’ has been recognized twice as an NASW Social Worker of the Year. 

In addition to extensive experience in social services, she has served as a Trainer and Project Manager for Prosync, Inc., a nationally recognized leader in customized training and performance contracting. She is a principal member of the Children Home Society’s current and previous Category III Trauma Recovery Initiatives (TRI) grant team and chairs the statewide Trauma Responsive Practices workgroup. René’s other specialties include trauma responsive practices, curriculum development, training facilitation, non-profit administration, supervisory development, and applied behavior analysis. 

Elizabeth McMullen  

2022 FSU MSW Graduate 
Certified Child Welfare Case Manager  

Elizabeth McMullen began her career in Child Welfare working as a Dependency Case Manager at the Children’s Home Society. In her work with foster and biological families Ms. McMullen found her passion in addressing trauma, relationships, and helping to build resiliency. She believes there is nothing more powerful than the human connection and Ms. McMullen shares that she loves to listen and learn from her clients. Ms. McMullen has been described as persistent, thoughtful, and driven as she strives to empower and advocate for her clients. Ms. McMullen will graduate in May 2022 with her Masters in Clinical Social Work, making her a two-time FSU alumna. In her free time, she enjoys hiking with my husband and two dogs, being outdoors, cold brew coffee, backyard fires with friends, and sunsets at the beach. 

Patricia Nellius-Guthrie  

Executive Vice President of Innovation and Knowledge Management 
Florida Coalition for Children 

Patricia Nellius-Guthrie is the Executive Vice President, Innovation & Knowledge Management at the Florida Coalition for Children (FCC). Prior to joining the FCC, Ms. Guthrie was the founding CEO of Brevard Family Partnership (BFP) where she served for more than 15 years. In 2013, Ms. Guthrie spearheaded and served as the CEO of the National Center for Innovation and Excellence (NCFIE), where she and her team innovated, incubated, and replicated evidence-based, youth-driven, and family-centered practices. Ms. Guthrie is widely recognized as an innovator, model developer, thought leader, and advocate for inclusion of those with lived experience. She has designed and implemented more than twenty community-based programs and initiatives focused on youth and family partnerships, prevention and diversion, high fidelity wraparound, and trauma responsive care.  

Out of a deep desire to affect change Ms. Guthrie has served in the human services sector with a specific focus on system reform and transformation for over 28 years. Patricia is a Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy Fellow and holds a doctorate with a specialty in trauma treatment and counseling. Ms. Guthrie is an accomplished and widely recognized national leader who has served in multiple gubernatorial appointments and national, state, and community leadership roles. She received commendation from Governor Bush for her instrumental role in the attainment of Florida’s Federal Child Welfare Title IVE Waiver and is the recipient of numerous awards for her accomplishments and contributions to the advancement of the field. 

Nathan Lee Scott III 

Child Welfare Policy Coordinator 
Florida Department of Health 

 Nathan Lee Scott III graduated with Honors from the University of South Florida in 2006 with a Bachelor of Art in Psychology and a Bachelor of Art in Sociology. Mr. Scott has been a Certified Child Protection Professional (CCPP) through the Florida Certification Board since 2012 and was named “Child Advocate of the Year” in 2018 for Manatee County. Currently Mr. Scott holds the position of Child Welfare Policy Coordinator with the Florida Department of Health for Florida’s Twelfth Judicial Circuit serving DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota Counties. As Child Welfare Policy Coordinator, Nathan assists the Family Safety Alliance, the Circuit’s Community Alliance, as outlined in Florida Statute 20.19, to achieve their mission “to serve as a collaborative, prevention-focused, and transparent partner that provides community oversight, education, and advocacy in the achievement of systemic improvements in community-based child welfare services.” 

Mr. Scott has dedicated 16 years to the field of Child Welfare, 9 of which included direct work as a Case Manager, Case Management Supervisor, and Assistant Program Director in Circuits 6 (Pinellas and Pasco Counties) and 12 (DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota Counties). He is passionate about children’s safety, health and well-being, successful intervention in multi-generational trauma cycles, fostering and maintaining healthy families, cross-system coordination, collaboration and care coordination, peer support, education, and universal prevention.  

John Sheetz 

FSU College of Medicine, Department of Behavioral Science and Social Medicine 

John Sheetz served as a Peace Corps Volunteer on Youth Development in Ukraine shortly after the Orange Revolution. To gain clinical skills and a perspective on American policy, John returned to Florida State University to pursue a Master of Social Work degree. While completing his MSW Mr. Sheetz studied child welfare, emergency preparedness, and refugee services. He conducted research on pain, opioids, and mindfulness. After graduation, Mr. Sheetz became a therapeutic foster care trainer, before pursuing consulting on child welfare services. This work has involved training new case managers across the panhandle, teaching child protective investigators about mental health, and developing evidence-based foster care programs for lead and contract agencies. Additionally, John has continued international child welfare work in Trinidad. John and his wife, Bekkah, also served as licensed foster parents with the Northwest Florida Health Network in Tallahassee. All children that Mr. And Mrs. Sheetz fostered have since transitioned to permanent homes they wished to be a part of. 

Nicola “Nicky” Smith 

Director of Organizational Development and Learning 
Communities Connected for Kids 

Nicola “Nicky” Smith, Director of Organizational Development & Learning holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master's degree in Professional Studies (Child Protection). She has also earned certification as a specialist practitioner in child protection and is currently a certified Child Welfare Trainer. Ms. Smith started her career as a registered nurse, eventually completing midwifery and health-visitor training in the United Kingdom. Since, Ms. Smith has accumulated over 30 years of experience in child welfare including providing direct services for children and families, serving as a quality management specialist, and as the grants and training manager for the Lead Agency. 

 Ms. Smith currently works with Devereux CBC/ Communities Connected for Kids (CCKids) overseeing all pre- service and in-service training activities. She has been with this organization for the last eight years and recently managed the agency's accreditation project with the Council on Accreditation resulting in an expedited award. Ms. Smith is a certified field instructor with Florida Atlantic University and provides supervision for Interns from the Bachelor's and Master's of Social Work Programs. Ms. Smith is a peer reviewer with the Council on Accreditation and has served as a guest reviewer with the Department of Children and Families Contract Oversight Unit. In addition, she represents CCKids on the Florida Certification Board’s Advisory Council and Ethics Sub-Committee, is a co-chair of the Florida Coalition for Children Training Sub-Committee and is a former Board Member/Secretary of the Martin County Health Start Coalition. 

Karen D. Turcotte, MPA 

Director of Staff Development 
Children’s Network of Southwest Florida 

Karen Turcotte has worked in the Florida Child Welfare system for 23 years and has been with the Children’s Network of Southwest Florida since 2000. Ms. Turcotte currently serves as the Director of Staff Development, which includes training and certification, grant writing, community development and a host of other administrative functions. Additionally, she supervises the Teen Outreach Program, Family Mentor Program, and works as the Council on Accreditation Coordinator. Ms. Turcotte earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut and later went on to pursue her master’s in public administration from Florida Gulf Coast University in 2012. Since graduation from Florida Gulf Coast University, she has spoken as a guest lecturer and child welfare subject matter expert for the Social Work program.  

Ms. Turcotte’s goals are to work in partnership with child welfare professionals and community stakeholders to advance practice and keep children safe. She has participated in several state-wide committees where she has advocated on behalf of the collective training interests of herself and her peers throughout the state. Additionally, Ms. Turcotte has served on the Florida Certification Board Ethics Committee and Child Welfare Advisory Council since its inception. In this role, she has helped to develop test items, policy and credentialing standards. Currently Ms. Turcotte functions as the Chair of the Florida Coalition for Children Training Sub-Committee and as a liaison between the Department of Children and Families and the Community Based Care training entities. Ms. Turcotte shares that in addition to her career, she enjoys spending time with her family, boating, vacations to New England, cooking and going to the beach. 

Tia Walton-Walker, PhD 

Research Faculty, Community Engagement Coordinator 
Florida State University Autism Institute 

Dr. Tia Walton-Walker is driven through her own personal journey with her daughter’s autism diagnosis, which occurred at the age of twelve. Dr. Walker was impacted by her experience in seeking a diagnosis for her daughter as her background in child development gave her insight to the potential for an increased quality of life for her daughter if a diagnosis had been received sooner. Since, she has declared it her mission to prevent similar situations from occurring for others. Dr. Walker joined the UM Autism Center and the FSU Autism Center to carry out this mission by training service providers, which could lead to early diagnosis, particularly in low-income children of color who are historically under-diagnosed and delayed in services. She also has extensive experience in child development, family engagement and community collaboration as a practitioner, researcher and professor. During her career, Dr. Walker has collaborated with an array of community services, including public schools, the early intervention system, childcare, head starts, and various home-visiting programs.  

Dr. Walker’s doctorate in child and family studies reflects her value of utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to working with children and families and has served as a guide to conducting research, to explore the potential roles service providers of different disciplines can play in helping at-risk families. Currently a research faculty member, co-investigator and project coordinator for a 3-year multi-million-dollar grant with the FSU Autism Institute, she is collaborating with the Florida Division of Early Learning to train childcare teachers on the early signs of autism and communication delays in infants and toddlers. Dr. Walker’s work has enabled her to expand the traditional methods used to teach parents, educators and service providers by developing an online platform which provides online courses, tools, resources and webinars utilizing evidence-based early intervention strategies. Dr. Walker’s goal is to assist the child welfare workforce in better serving young children with special needs and their families.  

Dina Wilke

Florida State University College of Social Work

Dina J. Wilke, PhD, is a Professor in the College of Social Work at Florida State University and a Faculty Affiliate with the Florida Institute for Child Welfare. She is the Director of the Florida Study of Professionals for Safe Families (FSPSF), a longitudinal study that followed 1,500 newly hired case managers and child protective investigators for 3 ½ years following pre-service training. Beyond her research interest in professional training and development, Dr. Wilke also focuses on intimate partner violence. Dr. Wilke received her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her MSW from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her clinical experience focused on adolescent and young adult substance abuse intervention. 


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