Division of Family Strengthening (DFS)

Staff and Organization

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Maria Woolverton

Division Director

Maria Woolverton is the Director of OPRE’s Division of Family Strengthening, which has primary responsibility for research and evaluation related to strengthening relationships within families, supporting fatherhood, nurturing children through their families, reducing teen pregnancy, and supporting youth in their transition to adulthood. Prior to leading this Division, she was a Senior Social Science Research Analyst and Team Leader for Child Welfare Research in OPRE. In this role, she oversaw a diverse portfolio of research and evaluation projects focused on child welfare and foster care, including the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS) and evaluations of the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program and the Permanency Innovations Initiative (PII). Ms. Woolverton also managed the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES), a nationally-representative descriptive study of children and families served in Head Start, and worked on development and fielding of the first American Indian/Alaska Native Family and Child Experiences Survey (AI/AN FACES). Ms. Woolverton holds a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University and did doctoral work in psychology at Stanford University.

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Samantha Illangasekare

Division Deputy Director 

Samantha Illangasekare is the Deputy Division Director of OPRE’s Division of Family Strengthening. As Deputy Division Director, Dr. Illangasekare works closely with the Division Director to oversee a research and evaluation portfolio that includes teen pregnancy prevention, youth development, healthy relationships and marriage, responsible fatherhood, family violence, runaway and homeless youth, and home visiting. Prior to this role, she was a Senior Social Science Research Analyst and Team Leader for Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood (HMRF) Research, working primarily on research and evaluation projects related to HMRF programs and domestic violence initiatives. Before joining OPRE in 2014, she was on faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where her research focused on intimate partner violence and community-based health initiatives. Dr. Illangasekare holds a B.A. in Human Biology from Stanford University, a Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) degree from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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Shirley Adelstein

Senior Social Science Research Analyst
Work and Family, Early Care and Education, Home Visiting, Parenting, Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood, Research Design and Methodology, Systematic Evidence Reviews

Shirley Adelstein’s work focuses on early childhood and family strengthening, including early care and education, work and family, parenting, and promoting healthy relationships. She has a strong interest in research methods, building evaluation capacity, and communicating research to diverse audiences. Prior to joining OPRE, Dr. Adelstein held research positions at Georgetown University, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and the Urban Institute. She holds a B.A. in Social History from New York University and completed her M.P.P. and Ph.D. in Government at Georgetown University.

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Harmanpreet Bhatti

Presidential Management Fellow
Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood

Harmanpreet Bhatti is a class of 2019 Presidential Management Fellow at OPRE. Her work focuses on healthy marriage, responsible fatherhood, evaluation technical assistance, and data management. Prior to joining OPRE, she was an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, where she assisted in the planning and quality assessment/quality control procedures of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Ms. Bhatti holds a BS from Chapman University and an MPH from the Yale School of Public Health.

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Caryn Blitz

Senior Program Analyst
Healthy Adolescent Development, Transition to Adulthood, Teen Pregnancy Prevention, Youth Homelessness, Self-Regulation, Co-Regulation, Prevention Science, Implementation Science, Measurement, Trauma and Well-Being

Caryn Blitz’s portfolio includes topics related to healthy adolescent development and transition to adulthood, including teen pregnancy prevention, youth homelessness, self-regulation, and co-regulation, as well as cross-cutting interests in prevention science, implementation science, measurement, and trauma and well-being. Before coming to OPRE, she was a Senior Policy Advisor at the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at ACF, where she was responsible for advising the Commissioner and supporting the agency on the effective implementation and evaluation of evidence-based and evidence-informed interventions and related activities -- screening and assessment, capacity building, planning, implementation, and evaluation -- to reduce the impact of trauma and improve the behavioral, emotional, and social well-being of the children, youth, and families served by ACYF. She has over 25 years of experience in research, policy and practice focused on children, youth, and families, including as Deputy Director of Evaluation and Research at CADCA’s National Community Anti-Drug Coalition Institute, Research Scientist at University of Washington’s Social Development Research Group, American Psychological Association/AAAS Fellow in the U.S. Senate, and NIAAA Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Alcohol Research Center at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Dr. Blitz holds a B.S. in English and Science from the University of Michigan, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Clinical and Community Psychology from DePaul University.

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Tia Brown

Senior Social Science Research Analyst
Team Leader for Adolescent Development Research
Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, Sexual Risk Avoidance, Home Visiting, National Domestic Violence Hotline

Tia Brown’s work focuses on teen pregnancy prevention, home visiting, and domestic violence initiatives. She has a keen interest in health equity, positive youth development, and mixed methods research. From 2012-2014, Dr. Brown served as an AAAS Population Association of America Fellow in the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research where she worked on health disparities and fatherhood research. Prior to joining OPRE, she worked on health policy issues affecting women, adolescents, and persons living with HIV/AIDS. Dr. Brown holds a B.S. from Xavier University of Louisiana, an M.P.H. from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and a Ph.D. in Social and Behavioral Sciences from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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Selma Caal

Social Science Research Analyst
Youth Development, Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention

Dr. Caal’s work includes topics related to youth development and adolescent pregnancy prevention among youth from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. She specializes in mixed methods program evaluations and research studies, survey development, and curriculum development. Her current portfolio at OPRE includes overseeing the Personal Responsibility Education Innovative Strategies Program (PREIS) and the Tribal Personal Responsibility Education Program (Tribal PREP) evaluations across many grantees. Dr. Caal also oversees the Performance Analysis Study (PAS) for the Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) programs, and works on the development of teen pregnancy prevention program curricula for parents of underrepresented youth, such as youth in foster care. Prior to joining OPRE, she was a Research Scientist at Child Trends, where she conducted research and program evaluations pertaining to children and youth, reproductive health behaviors among Latino adolescents, and parenting among immigrants. In addition to her research and evaluation experience, she has worked in applied settings, such as Head Start and home-visiting programs. Selma holds a B.A. in Psychology from the California State University, Long Beach and a Ph.D. in Applied Developmental Psychology from George Mason University.

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Pooja Gupta Curtin

Social Science Research Analyst
Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood, Home Visiting

Pooja Curtin’s work at OPRE focuses on early childhood, family strengthening, and evaluation capacity building, especially on projects related to healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood, home visiting, and parents and children involved with the child welfare system. She has a particular interest in mixed methods research, rapid learning methods, and innovative ways of communicating research, data, and evidence to a wide variety of audiences. Ms. Curtin joined OPRE as a Presidential Management Fellow. Prior to joining OPRE, she worked on US government-funded international development projects and with non-profit organizations to foster social innovation and entrepreneurship. Ms. Curtin holds an MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School and a BA from the College of William & Mary.

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Nicole Denmark

Senior Social Science Research Analyst
Home Visiting, Early Childhood Workforce Issues, Data and Evaluation Capacity Building, Early Childhood Research in American Indian/Alaska Native Communities

Nicole Denmark’s work at OPRE focuses on home visiting, early care and education, and evaluation capacity building across diverse communities. Nicole is interested in cultural and contextual influences on parenting and on the adaptation, implementation, and effectiveness of services for young children and families. To date, her portfolio at OPRE includes: the Tribal Home Visiting Evaluation Institute (TEI), the Touchpoints for Addressing Substance Use in Home Visiting Project, the Tribal Early Childhood Research Center (TRC), Design Options for Home Visiting Evaluation (DOHVE), and the Study of Coordination of Tribal TANF-Child Welfare Services. Prior to joining OPRE, Nicole worked as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Maryland College Park, where she managed evaluations of home visiting programs for low-income families in urban and rural communities. Nicole’s dissertation study on the experiences of Central American immigrant children and families in Head Start was funded through a Head Start Scholars dissertation award. Nicole holds a BA in Psychology from Reed College, and a Ph.D. in Human Development from the University of Maryland College Park.

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Calonie Gray

Senior Social Science Research Analyst
Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, Child Welfare, Substance Use Disorders, Innovative Methods

Calonie Gray's work focuses on adolescent pregnancy prevention and supporting children and families impacted by parental substance abuse. She has keen interests in quantitative methods, adolescent development, substance abuse, and health equity. Prior to joining OPRE, she worked as a research analyst in the U.S. Department of Education Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education where she provided technical leadership on policy, research, and evaluation initiatives. Prior to her federal service, she worked in private, academic, and government settings--both domestic and abroad--conducting applied research and evaluations targeting public health issues, particularly among populations experiencing physical and social vulnerabilities. Dr. Gray holds a B.A. in Psychology and Spanish from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and both a M.S. in Counseling Psychology and Ph.D. in Life-span Developmental Psychology from Florida International University.

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Rebecca Hjelm

Social Science Research Analyst
Healthy Marriage, Responsible Fatherhood, Intimate Partner Violence/Dating Violence, Early Childhood, and Child Welfare

Rebecca Hjelm’s work focuses on family strengthening programs, with a current concentration on Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood (HMRF) and Tribal TANF-Child Welfare. Rebecca is interested in early childhood experiences and the role of parenting programs on long-term outcomes for children and families. Additionally, she has an interest in better understanding issues of equity, such as disparities in accessing services/programs and outcomes. She has a particular interest in making data, research findings, and other information useful, actionable, and relevant. Prior to joining OPRE Rebecca performed evaluation, research, and analysis roles at the national, state, and local level across non-profits, state government, and local governments in the areas of child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and prevention. Rebecca has her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and a BA from the College of William and Mary.

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Kriti M. Jain

Senior Social Science Research Analyst

Kriti Jain’s work at OPRE focuses on domestic/intimate partner violence, ongoing research methods training, healthy marriage, and responsible fatherhood. Prior to joining OPRE, she designed and ran evaluations of multisite social services programs tailored to individuals living with HIV. She was an Evaluation and Research Manager and Research Associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and also worked as an independent consultant. Kriti is the lead author of an implementation science book called Improving Access to HIV Care: Lessons Learned from Five U.S. Sites (Johns Hopkins University Press, Jan 2016). She holds a B.S. in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Doctorate and Master's of Science in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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Nancy Geyelin Margie

Senior Social Science Research Analyst
Team Leader for Home Visiting Research
Home Visiting

Nancy Geyelin Margie’s work focuses on human services programs that aim to promote healthy child development and family well-being. She coordinates OPRE’s home visiting research efforts, and oversees national evaluations examining the implementation and impact of home visiting programs. Before concentrating on home visiting research and evaluation, she also worked on projects in OPRE related to family engagement in early care and education, Head Start, and child care. Dr. Margie came to OPRE as a Society for Research in Child Development Executive Branch Fellow. Prior to graduate school, she was a research assistant at the National Academies for the report From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development, and at Child Trends working on a variety of early childhood topics. Dr. Margie holds a B.A. from Haverford College and a Ph.D. in Human Development from the University of Maryland, College Park.

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Kelly Jedd McKenzie

Senior Social Science Research Analyst
Home Visiting, Child Welfare, Human Trafficking, Child and Family Well-Being

Kelly Jedd McKenzie’s work focuses on supporting children and families, including projects related to home visiting, prevention of child maltreatment, and child welfare. With a background in Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience, Dr. McKenzie has particular interest in the impact of trauma and childhood adversity on brain and behavioral development and ways to promote child well-being through family and community strengthening. Prior to joining OPRE, she was a Society for Research in Child Development/American Association for the Advancement of Science (SRCD/AAAS) Policy Fellow in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she led the child trauma portfolio and worked on early childhood policy initiatives. Dr. McKenzie was also a Doris Duke Fellow for the Promotion of Child Well-Being. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from Whitman College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Child Psychology from the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota.

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Aleta Meyer

Senior Social Science Research Analyst
Lead for Primary Prevention and Resilience
Research and Evaluation with Indigenous Communities in the United States, Rural Human Services, Home Visiting, Healthy Relationship Education for Youth

Dr. Aleta Meyer’s work focuses on the translation of theory and empirical research across multiple health and well-being outcomes into effective and feasible prevention programs for communities. At ACF this includes the translation of research on early adversity and chronic stress to ACF programs, community-engaged research to evaluate human services programs that serve Indigenous communities in the United States, and positive youth development. From 2007-2010, she was a health scientist administrator in the Prevention Research Branch at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Prior to joining NIDA, she was an Associate Professor of Psychology in the Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development at Virginia Commonwealth University. She completed her doctoral work in Human Development and Family Studies at The Pennsylvania State University, with an emphasis in Prevention Science.

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Laura Nerenberg

Senior Social Science Research Analyst
Home Visiting, Statistical Methods

Laura Nerenberg is a Senior Social Science Research Analyst at the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, where her work focuses on family strengthening, primarily on projects related to home visiting services. She is particularly interested in parenting, promotion of positive mental health outcomes, and implementation science. Prior to joining OPRE, she was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan. Dr. Nerenberg holds a B.S. in Psychology from Brown University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Child Psychology from the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist with experience working with children and families.

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Katie Pahigiannis

Senior Social Science Research Analyst
Team Leader for Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Research
Interests: Fatherhood research, family strengthening, social neuroscience, child development, self-regulation, health equity, prevention

Katie Pahigiannis’ work focuses on family strengthening and fatherhood research initiatives related to Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood and Child Welfare programs. She is interested in father engagement and understanding the connection between father involvement and child development, promoting holistic approaches to family services, applying social neuroscience-informed frameworks to family strengthening research and programs, advancing health equity, and translating research into policy and practice. Prior to joining OPRE, she was a policy analyst at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health, where she led planning and evaluation projects on neuroscience research areas including health disparities, prevention, clinical trials, neurodevelopmental disorders, and vascular brain health. She also translated OPRE’s self-regulation and toxic stress reports into early childhood practitioner tip sheets and published a review on peer influences in self-regulation development in early childhood. Dr. Pahigiannis holds a B.S. in biology from the University of Oklahoma, a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Lund University in Sweden and an M.P.H. with a Graduate Certificate in Maternal and Child Health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.