Hogg Foundation Creates Policy Fellowships in Texas
December 16, 2010
A new generation of Texas advocates for mental health is getting on-the-job training, education and experience in policy and advocacy work through a new fellowship program funded by the Hogg Foundation.
Five nonprofit advocacy groups received grants totaling $326,850 to hire policy fellows and provide them with an experienced mentor. The fellows – all recent graduates with advanced degrees in mental health or policy-related fields – are working on projects to improve mental health policy in Texas.
The foundation also awarded a separate grant of $88,328 to Texans Care for Children to develop and conduct the new Hogg Mental Health Policy Academy. The academy provides training and support for the fellows, their mentors and others involved in advocacy work in Texas. The academy held its first session in Austin in October.
“Texas needs more advocates who understand the state’s complex mental health system and know how to improve it through public policy work. These fellows are learning the art of public policy work from seasoned experts,” said Dr. Octavio N. Martinez, Jr., executive director of the Hogg Foundation.
Program Officer Colleen Horton is managing the fellowship program and academy. “We are very excited about the policy fellows’ enthusiasm for the project and the fact that they will have the opportunity to develop their policy skills as well as a passion for mental health,” she said.
Photo: Texans Care for Children staff led the first policy academy in October, including (left to right) Public Policy Director Jodie Smith, Chief Executive Officer Eileen Garcia, and Mental Health Policy Associate and mentor Josette Saxton.
Policy Fellows Describe Their Mental Health Projects
Natalie Nelson, Advocacy, Inc., Austin
This fellowship will provide me with a great introduction into the policy world. My focus at Advocacy Inc. is mental health in the Texas juvenile justice system, and my work includes developing policy recommendations, monitoring legislative and agency actions, and researching issues and promising diversion models for youth with mental illness in the juvenile justice system.
Katherine Barillas, ChildBuilders, Houston
At ChildBuilders, I am developing policy priorities for primary prevention in the areas of child abuse, mental health and teen pregnancy. I hope this fellowship will reestablish and create connections within the policy community and provide me with the opportunity to advocate for important issues during one of the most difficult legislative sessions Texas has encountered.
Jennifer Bernstein, Lutheran Social Services of the South, Inc., Austin
I have been learning a great deal about the intricate relationship between foster care and mental health systems in Texas. My current projects include developing educational brochures and policy briefs in easily understood language for policy makers, clients and consumers, and conducting a multistate survey of trauma-related laws and regulations. I am also helping to coordinate foster youth input on a new statewide youth mental health advocacy network.
Katharine Ligon, Mental Health America of Greater Houston
This is an excellent opportunity to further my interest in public policy related to mental health disparities for vulnerable populations. I’m writing briefing papers about the cyclical effects of $134 million in proposed state budget cuts to the public mental health system and to local jails, law enforcement, public safety, emergency rooms and juvenile justice. I am also working with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and the Houston Police Department to expand local mental health programs.
Lauren Rose, Texans Care for Children, Austin
The fellowship provides a great opportunity for me to delve deeply into mental health and juvenile justice policy while working alongside knowledgeable, passionate advocates. This is an interesting time to work in juvenile justice and mental health policy in Texas. As the state implements juvenile justice reforms and considers restructuring the system, a great opportunity to address children’s mental health needs is opening up. Policy decisions today will have profound impact for years to come, and I am humbled to be a part of it.