February Recap

On behalf of the publications committee, we would like to extend our gratitude to all our readers for making the blog’s first month a success. As CYF concentrators, it was great to share our passion for policy issues relating to children, youth, and families in the United States.

Throughout the month of February, we shared original pieces of writing, fact sheets, spotlights on staff and current and former students, as well as CYF relevant articles in today’s headlines. Below are links to all the articles published related to CYF for the Heller MPP Blog.

Thank you again for reading and sharing your work related to children, youth, and families. If you haven’t already, please be sure to follow our blog to get email updates of new posts. For March, we will be covering the Poverty Alleviation concentration.

MPP students, we look forward to your submissions to mpphellerblog@gmail.com. Please make all submissions related to poverty alleviation, though feel free to address the theme through your own concentration’s lense.

Oliver Supitux, MPP Candidate ‘17 | Children, Youth, and Family Concentrator

Sophie Pingul, MPP/MBA Candidate ‘17 |  Children, Youth, and Family Concentrator


Alum Spotlight: Molly O’Donnell


Please introduce yourself (name, year, concentration, activities you participated in at Heller, what you are doing now):

My name is Molly O’Donnell, I am a December 2015 (very recent!) MPP/MBA graduate from the Heller School with a concentration in Child, Youth, and Family Policy. I moved to the Boston area to attend the Heller School and had a clear goal upon arrival to build a Boston based network. Heller was a great place to do that – I worked briefly for the Admissions Office and participated on the Diversity Working Group and worked as a TA for a Carole Carlson’s Strategic Management course. In 2014, I was selected as a Segal Fellow and placed at Root Cause for the summer, a non-profit research and consulting firm. I continued working with Root Cause for the remainder of my time at Heller and also joined the Associate Board of a local youth services organization called Breakthrough Greater Boston. A few months before leaving Heller, I was asked to join the team at New Profit, a venture philanthropy firm, on their Reimagine Learning Fund, which develops an impact framework for their work. Since then, I have joined the team full time as a Senior Associate. Through my role on the New Profit Reimagine Learning Team, I coordinate our regional strategy by doing a case study in Lawrence, MA and supporting a strategic planning process with Salem Public Schools. I also work to shepherd  our capacity building support for our grantees to improve their ability to serve students who have been systematically underserved in our current school systems – students with learning differences, low income students, and students exposed to trauma.


What were you doing before you came to Heller?

Prior to coming to the Heller School, I was working as a Lead Advocate in a youth services organization called Open Meadow (now Open School) in Portland, Oregon. As a part of this role I had a caseload of 25 students annually who I would work with through tutoring, mentoring, advocacy with teachers, leadership development, and in depth parent partnership. I also served on the organization’s Equity Committee providing professional development for educators on culturally competent teaching and working collectively towards closing racial achievement gaps in Portland schools. I had previously served two terms of AmeriCorps service in education organizations which helped put me on a path towards a career in advancing educational equity.


Why did you decide to come to Heller?

Leaving my work with students in Portland was one of the hardest career decisions I have made to date and looking back I feel very excited by where I have gone in the few years since making that choice. In my direct service role I felt often that I was bumping up against numerous barriers – some had to do with educational policy and social policy that kept putting roadblocks in the way of my students’ successes, others were organizational challenges about strategy and funding choices and challenges to achieving the appropriate scale for impact. These challenges together made me look at programs that would allow me both the policy vantage point to understand the environments in which I work and the need for real business skills. The Heller MPP/MBA is a unique program that provides you an opportunity to go deep in both of these areas. The Children, Youth, and Family concentration was also a huge attraction for me – many schools focus on education policy specifically and my experience clearly indicated to me that the systems that impact students’ experiences in school are often outside of the school building and I wanted to take a more holistic view of the challenges facing children, youth, and families. Finally, I have always been a huge fan of Boston and it is truly a hub for great thinkers in the youth services space. These factors made Heller an obvious choice for me!
What are some of the classes/activities that really enjoyed at Heller?

I have to admit that the classes I liked most I could never have predicted! My current boss makes fun of me because I talk about how much I loved my accounting classes – something I never expected! I loved Carol Carlson’s strategic management course – so much so that I sat through the four hour classes a second time as her TA. One of the best classes I took was a small class on Children, Youth, and Family Policy with Marji Erickson-Warfield, it allowed our class of 10 to dig deep on policy issues and really think of how we would rethink and redesign policy for those who are most under served by our current systems. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a more in depth look in this content area! What struck me most across all of my classes was the level of care and intention Heller professors bring to their work. Mike Doonan who directs the MPP program exemplifies this in the way he redesigns his courses each year to ensure he incorporates student feedback – a sign of a deeply committed teacher!


Can you say a little about where you were and what you did for your summer internship?

I was fortunate enough to be selected as an Eli Segal Fellow through Heller School. The Segal program helped place me as a resident at Root Cause in Boston. I worked with Root Cause on a few really exciting projects that helped spark my interest in working in the nonprofit capacity building space. The bulk of my work focused on a capacity building initiative for youth workforce development programs in the city of Boston. I worked with a team including another Heller alum, Alex Motter, to create a youth survey for 4,000 students across the city about their summer work experience in community based organizations and to implement a training on trauma-informed workplaces and informal mentoring for  300 supervisors of youth workers across the city. During my summer with Root Cause, I also had the opportunity to read and rank proposals to the Social Innovation Forum’s accelerator program and work on a few memos for MENTOR (in partnership with yet another Heller alum from MENTOR!) on the importance of mentoring for preventing youth violence. After my summer with Root Cause, I was fortunate to stay on the following year and continue to work with youth workforce programs doing program assessment and running the capacity building program for a second year.


How do you use the skills you learned at Heller in your profession?

As I am only a few months into my post-Heller life, I feel like I am still learning about all of the points of connection from my academic work to my current work. One thing I can say for sure is that the Heller network helped me arrive in this position and I continue to come across Heller alums everywhere I go! Some of the immediate skills I have used from my Heller experience really draw on my strategic management coursework and upon the consultative skills I developed through the Team Consulting Project in the MBA program. Susan Curnan also tells you over and over in Children, Youth, and Family courses that understanding evaluation and logic models will be valuable in your work – she couldn’t be more right! I have spent the majority of my first few weeks on the job working on an impact framework and logic model. I feel very fortunate that the work I am currently doing feels like the perfect intersection of my two degrees and my content area – I work closely with organizations to build capacity, I have to bring a deep understanding of education policy, and bring the general writing and analysis skills developed throughout the MPP program. It truly could not have worked out better for me and I have to thank the Segal Program and the Heller School for that.  


FACT SHEET: Trans Inclusive Shelters Are Imperative for Transgender Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Img TwoTransgender is an umbrella term for individuals whose sex assigned at birth (male, female) does not match their gender identity or gender expression. Some examples are male-to-female (MtF) and female-to-male (FtM) trans people.


Every year approximately 1.7 million youths identify as homeless, whether they left home voluntarily or were made homeless involuntarily, according to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children. Of these 1.7 million, 20-40% identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT).1


Studies also show that LGBT youth, once homeless, experience higher rates of negative outcomes than their heterosexual/heteronormative counterparts, such as mental health issues, sexual violence victimization, and higher rates of attempted suicide.2 


  •  1 in 5 transgender people report experiencing homelessness at least once in in their lifetime
  • Over 40% of transgender people experiencing/facing homelessness are forced to stay in a shelter living as the wrong gender
  • 22% of transgender people facing homeless report being sexually assaulted from staff or other residents in shelters
  • 29% transgender youth experiencing homelessness report being turned away from a shelter due to their transgender status


In 2000, the National Alliance to End Homelessness put out a call to action to end homelessness in the U.S. in ten years through a strategic plan. Multiple federally funded initiatives have arisen to address the issue of homelessness. Some programs include the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, and the Health Care for the Homeless program.4

In 2015 the reauthorization of RHYA FAILED to pass the Senate.

A comprehensive federal strategy to address homelessness in the United States named Opening Doors was presented to the Office of the President and Congress in 2010. One goal of this initiative is to now end youth homelessness by 2020.5


Past initiatives to prevent and reduce rates of homelessness among youths have had NO provisions that prevent discrimination based on gender identity/expression.

This leaves transgender youth vulnerable as they are at greater risk to experience homelessness and experience physical harm when seeking traditional supports for homeless youth, such as shelters.


Urge legislators to pass the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act of 2015.6 This Act prohibits discrimination based on perceived or actual gender identity/expression from any program that receives funding from the Act.

Demand culturally appropriate care for youth experiencing homelessness by requiring sensitivity training for all shelter operators and workers.

Oliver Supitux
MPP ’17
Children, Youth, and Families Concentrator

1National Alliance to End Homelessness (2012). “An Emerging Framework for Ending Unaccompanied Youth Homelessness.” Retrieved from http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/an-emerging-framework-for-ending-unaccompanied-youth-homelessness

2Ray, N. (2006). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth: An epidemic of homelessness. New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Coalition for the Homeless. Retrieved from http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/HomelessYouth.pdf

3Mottet, L., & Ohle, J. (2003). Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People. New York: The National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute

4National Alliance to End Homeless (2010). “Fact Sheet: Questions and Answers on Homelessness Policy and Research.” Retrieved from http://www.endhomelessness.org/page/-/files/1786_file_Fact_Sheet_TYP_2_1_2010.pdf

5United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. (Amended 2015). Opening Doors. Washington D.C. Retrieved from https://www.usich.gov/resources/uploads/asset_library/USICH_OpeningDoors_Amendment2015_FINAL.pdf

6H.R.1779, 114 Congress (2015)

Striking Out: Michigan’s Anti-Strike Legislation and the Detroit Public Schools Sick-Outs

By: Darcy Kennedy

January 20th, 2016. President Obama, invited to the North American International Auto Show, begins his tour of the Cobo Center. Hours before, teachers and their supporters wave signs that decry the deplorable conditions of Detroit Public Schools (DPS). This protest shut down 88 of DPS’ 100 schools for the day. Teachers in Detroit love their students, and see themselves as the front-line defenders of students’ educational rights. So, sick and tired of working in these conditions, teachers staged multiple “sick-outs” to recuperate from “Snyder Flu” caused by the inaction of Michigan governor.

Three weeks later, a fifth grade class at Clippert Academy staged a “walk-in” with the support of their teachers, classmates, and community members. Echoing the outrage of insufficient infrastructure, students had an additional demand: the return of their bilingual secretary, whose absence was acutely felt in their primarily Spanish-speaking community. In defiance of legislators continuously ignoring the needs of the school system, students and teachers marched into the building to continue learning and teaching in sub-par conditions. The message is clear: legislators cannot be allowed to further deprive teachers of opportunities to express outrage at the state of affairs in their schools.

How bad are conditions within these schools? Results from health and safety inspections showed there were numerous health code violations due to rodents, water damage, and broken facilities. Black mold grows in classrooms where students and teachers have to wear coats to combat faulty or broken heating systems. These conditions are the result of years and years of neglect and budget deficits – by the end of this summer, Detroit Public Schools will be carrying $515 million in debt. This is in spite of having been under control of an emergency manager since 2009.

Teachers are calling out sick instead of striking because it is illegal for public employees to strike in 37 states. Due to legislation like the Hutchinson Act of 1947 and Public Act 112 of 1994, DPS teachers are forced to use their own personal sick days to draw attention to the conditions they have spent years teaching in.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate are attempting to fight the sick-outs by proposing increasingly stringent laws and legal action. On February 2nd, the Senate Education Committee voted 4-1 for legislation that would make it easier to punish teachers and schools that are involved in strikes. These punishments include revoking teaching certificates for those involved in strikes, and cutting school aid to districts who don’t dock pay for said teachers.

The House revealed their plan to fix Detroit’s schools last week. These include an eight year plan to reinstate a locally elected school board, switching from a pension plan to a 401-k for new hires to the district, reducing the bargaining power of teacher’s unions, and creating a letter grade system for ranking Detroit schools, complete with merit pay for educators and administrators.  Ivy Bailey, Interim President for the Detroit Federation of Teachers, stated: “There’s a bigger picture here — they want to destroy unions, plain and simple.” It looks like she might be right.

After actions such as 15 years of state-mandated emergency management, continuous budget cuts, and placing the same man who poisoned Flint in charge of the district, legislators in Michigan have subversively underinvested in the education of Detroit’s young people for long enough. Control of Detroit Public Schools must be placed back into the hands of local stakeholders, and restrictions on teachers and administrators’ right to collective bargaining must be curtailed. They have been silenced for long enough, and should not be further punished for using the last tools left to them.


Student Spotlight: Jessica Rittner


Please introduce yourself:

Jessica Rittner, second year MPP/MBA student, CYF concentrator, Co-President of the MPP Student Association (MPPSA), I Bruce Gordon Fellow.

What were you doing before you came to Heller?

Prior to joining the Heller community I worked at Abt Associate, a global leader in social policy, research, and evaluation. As an Analyst in the Public Health and Epidemiology department, I worked on several large evaluations pertaining to food policy; chronic disease prevention among children and the aging population; the integration of mental health and primary care delivery for children with diverse social and emotional needs; and improving maternal, infant, and child health outcomes. I also had the opportunity to manage several multi-million dollar contracts and develop policy recommendations for a variety of U.S. Department of Health and Human Service agencies and Massachusetts state agencies.  

Why did you decide to come to Heller?

I chose to attend Heller because of the school’s commitment to “knowledge advancing social justice.” For me, the phrase emphasizes the importance of marrying clarity of thought with clarity of action. Heller is truly a community of like-minded individuals who strive to be change agents. Our curriculum is structured in a way that enhances student’s collective knowledge on current social policy and management issues, and fosters opportunities to apply our in-class experiences in real-world settings, through summer internships, consulting projects, and community partnerships. I am constantly in awe of my classmate’s dedication to social responsibility and improving equity, and I think that speaks volumes to the type of students that Heller attracts.  

What are some of the classes/activities that you’ve really enjoyed here at Heller?

The course, “Child and Family Policy: U.S. and Cross-Cultural Perspective,” taught by Dr. Marji Erickson Warfield, was one of my favorite courses at Heller. The class was small enough so that the group could fully engage in meaningful dialogues about domestic child and family policies around diverse topics (e.g., immigration, education, disability).  Marji was an excellent facilitator and brought in several engaging speakers: Katie Brandt, a Heller alum and founder of the campaign Love is Out There; Robyn Powell, current Heller PhD student and disability lawyer and policy consultant; and Tom Sannicandro, current Heller PhD student and MA state representative.

As for activities, I have to give a shout out to the MPPSA and its leadership! We are extremely fortunate to have a student-led infrastructure that aims to enhance our in-class experiences in the spirit of Heller’s mission. Our Committees – Community Partnerships, Professional and Career Development, Publications, and Social Events – are doing incredibly work. I am honored to work in that space, but even more grateful for the opportunity to learn from and engage with my peers.

If you have done a summer internship, can you say a little about where you were and what you did?

This past summer I worked as a policy intern at Health Resources in Action (HRiA), a Boston-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting individual and community health through prevention, research, and policy. While at HRiA, I assessed state and local pediatric asthma-related wellness policies, tools, and resources to assist school districts in implementing asthma-friendly policies in Massachusetts’ high-risk communities. I also developed newsletters, presentation content, case studies, and an evaluation survey for an annual Massachusetts Asthma Action Partnership (MAAP) summit. Lastly, I developed a three-year strategic plan to help the Policy and Practice department identify and attract new development and staffing opportunities, and build existing and future staff and project-specific competencies.

Jessica Levin Rittner
Children, Youth, and Families Concentrator

Student Spotlight: Zhiling Meng


I am a first-year master’s degree candidate for Public Policy, concentrating in Children, Youth, and Families (CYF). Here at Heller, I am learning policy analysis and practicing strategic planning and evaluation, specifically in early childhood development and education. 

Before coming to Heller, I was a management consultant at iJoin Consulting and an organizer for the Hope Organization. While working at iJoin Consulting, a social consulting firm, I developed strong research and analytical skills by producing evaluation reports based on Chinese social policies, such as dibao—a minimum living allowance in urban China.

As an organizer at the Hope Organization, I helped students receive admission to middle and high schools. Experiencing the insufficient education policy system inspired me to effectively organize, implement, and evaluate a development program. Social development for youth struck me as the perfect channel for my long-term aspiration to blend policies, sustainable development, and social good. This is what led me to the Heller School. I believe there will be a bigger impact on the lives of youth if more individuals get involved with youth development.

 After coming to Heller, I realized that youth development programs must begin at birth, so I have decided to focus on education effectiveness for early childhood development. I enjoy most of my academic classes, which have provided me with a solid understanding of my interest area. Last semester, I researched and organized a policy analysis project on two federal assistance programs for youth: the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This project helped me to understand how social policy is developed and how policies evolve over time. I also developed a logic model for the Lemberg Children’s Center in order to understand how one initiative can affect change and lead to long-term outcomes. This semester, I am designing and developing a project that explores how children initiative programs work at the local level.

Implementing Community Health Worker Models: A Bottom-Up Approach to Improving Pediatric Asthma Care

The Problem: Pediatric Asthma Disparities

Childhood asthma is a serious and costly public health concern. One out of every ten children in the U.S. is affected by asthma, making it the most common chronic childhood disease (CDC, 2013). Unfortunately, children with the highest rates of asthma are living at or below the federal poverty level (12%), and often their families do not have the financial or educational resources to obtain high quality, culturally sensitive healthcare (Forno and Celedon, 2012; Rossier Markus and Artis, 2011). Barriers to obtaining quality asthma care include low literacy levels on health, limited access to culturally competent care, and lack of health insurance.  In addition, children living with chronic conditions are significantly driving up U.S. healthcare costs. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that asthma accounts for $56 billion of annual healthcare spending, including direct medical costs from hospital visits and indirect costs such as lost school and parent workdays (EPA, 2012).

The Solution: Implementation of Community Health Worker Models  Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 10.48.56 AM

One promising solution to combatting the prevalence and rising healthcare costs associated with pediatric asthma is the utilization of Community Health Workers (CHW) in high poverty and marginalized communities. A CHW, defined as a “frontline public health worker who is a trusted member of and/or has an unusually close understanding of the community served,” serves as a liaison between the patient and health/social service agencies (APHA, 2015). CHW models enhance individual and community capacities by increasing health knowledge and self-sufficiency through a range of activities such as outreach, community education, informal counseling, social support, and advocacy (Sinai Urban Health Institute, 2014). 

The Affordable Care Act recognizes CHWs as integral members of the healthcare
workforce, particularly for their role in Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 10.49.09 AMlinking clinical and community resources for patients and their families. One of the most important features of CHW models is that they utilize a bottom-up approach to improving care delivery and patient outcomes. CHWs strengthen already existing ties and relationships with community networks, as they generally reside in communities where they work and understand the social context of their patient’s lives (CDC, 2015).

CHWs are closely involved in the on-the-ground implementation and day-to-day operations of pediatric asthma CHW models. Oftentimes CHWs are responsible for conducting home-visits with patients and their families, helping to review medication use, assessing home environments to identify and reduce common asthma triggers, offering educational asthma management techniques and resources, and attending healthcare appointments with families. In some cases, CHWs serve as an advocate in other community settings (e.g., schools, child-care providers, housing authorities); other times CHWs are members of a structured healthcare team. Given their ability to reach community members at a relatively low cost, CHW models have been proposed as a cost-effective means for improving care coordination and improving health outcomes among low-income families.  A key challenge to integrating CHWs into service delivery and payment systems is a general lack of understanding among providers and policymakers about the potential roles and responsibilities of CHWs, effective techniques for sustainability of CHW models, and improved healthcare and social costs associated with the CHW model (California Health Workforce Alliance, 2011).

Community Health Worker models are an important community-based strategy to improve pediatric asthma health outcomes, increase access to culturally competent healthcare, and reduce healthcare costs. The establishment of an infrastructure for a CHW workforce, including appropriate funding and training opportunities, is critical to educating and providing culturally competent asthma care for risk children and their families, as well as reducing the prevalence of asthma in particularly vulnerable communities.

Jessica Levin Rittner
Children, Youth, and Families Concentrator