Leadership

National Program Office Leadership Team

Child First, Inc. is overseen by an invaluable Board of Directors, with a National Program staff of high energy professionals focused on providing services of the very highest quality.


Board of Directors

Linda Franciscovich, Esq.
Board Chair

Linda R. Franciscovich is the Executive Director of The Grossman Family Foundation, a family foundation located in Cos Cob, Connecticut. Over the last two decades, she has advised families in all areas of philanthropy, including gift planning, mission and program development, governance, and succession planning. Prior to joining The Grossman Family Foundation, she held positions as Vice President of Development and Philanthropic Services at the Fairfield County Community Foundation, Norwalk, Connecticut and Managing Director of Private Philanthropy at U.S. Trust Company, New York where she oversaw a team providing client services for $2.5 billion of philanthropic assets.

She is a graduate of New York Law School and the University of Denver and is admitted to the Bar of the State of New York. She serves as a Director of The Berthe M. Cote Foundation, is a board member of the Connecticut Council on Philanthropy, and serves as a member of the Governor’s (CT) Early Childhood Cabinet.  She and her husband live in Westport.

John E. Schmeltzer, III, Esq.
Board Secretary

Mr. Schmeltzer began working at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP as an associate following his graduation from Fordham University School of Law in 1974 and became a partner in the Corporate Department in 1982.  He retired from the Firm in 2014.
Mr. Schmeltzer’s practice has consisted of representation of publicly traded oil and gas, mining and investment companies.  He also represented hedge funds and a number of early stage companies. A large part of his practice involved transnational mergers and acquisitions and infrastructure projects.  He has participated in major infrastructure projects in the former Soviet Union.  In addition, he advised on compliance aspects of the Bank Secrecy Act and the USA PATRIOT Act, having advised a number of money center banks in connection with both compliance programs and violations of such statutes.  Mr. Schmeltzer has a long history of representing both investors and funds in the venture capital and hedge fund areas, having been responsible for creation of the "ERISA and foundation outs" used by most venture capital funds. 
Mr. Schmeltzer also represented a significant not-for-profit housing corporation, including all aspects of fund raising, state and federal grants, construction and management of multiple properties. He has lectured on the Bank Secrecy Act and has spent significant time both in the CIS and Europe on project finance, acquisitions and other transactions.  Born and raised in New York, New York, Mr. Schmeltzer is a graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy and Princeton University and currently lives in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Richard Ostuw, M.S.
Board Treasurer

Richard Ostuw has been a consultant to large employers helping them manage their health and welfare benefits and served for about 20 years in lead national and global roles in managing the consulting practice. Key responsibilities included developing ideas and material for consultants to use with clients, staff training, professional standards, research, press relations and marketing. Most of his career was with Towers Perrin where he was the firm’s Chief Actuary and served on the Board of Directors. He also served as the Global Practice Director for Group and Health Care Benefits at Watson Wyatt. He was an early national leader on several major benefits issues including flexible benefits/employee choice and retiree health benefits.  He chaired the Cost Audit Group which provided an independent cost analysis of the Clinton administration’s health care reform proposal.  His direct client work was mostly with Fortune 500 size companies and included some of the largest companies in the U.S. Since his retirement, Mr. Ostuw has served with several non-profit organizations. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut (which provides mental health services to children), the Advisory Board of Charter Oak Communities (which provides affordable housing) and the Human Resources Committee of Building One Community (previously Neighbors Link Stamford, which serves recent immigrants). He was previously on the Board of the Darien/Stamford chapter of the American Red Cross. He has a B.A in Mathematics from Rutgers University and a M.S. in Actuarial Science from Northeastern University. He has published approximately 20 articles on employee benefits issues.

Marianne Barton, Ph.D.
Board Member

Marianne Barton is Clinical Professor and Director of Clinical Training at the University of Connecticut, Ph.D. Program in Clinical Psychology. She is also the Director of the Psychological Services Clinic at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Barton is a licensed psychologist and has worked for more than 30 years providing evaluation and treatment to young children and their families in multiple settings. She also has many years of experience providing clinical training and supervision to graduate students in Clinical Psychology, Interns in Psychology, Child Psychiatry Fellows and practitioners in community settings. Dr. Barton is an active researcher and has published more than 60 articles.  She is one of the authors of, The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers-Revised, (M-CHAT-R/F) and the Working Model of the Child Interview, as well as the recently published Activity Kit for Babies and Toddlers at Risk. Dr. Barton provides consultation to multiple community agencies and serves on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Association of Infant Mental Health.
Dr. Barton holds a Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Connecticut. She completed her internship at Brown University School of Medicine and subsequently joined the clinical faculty at Brown and the staff of Emma Pendleton Bradley Hospital.  

Rebecca Shahmoon-Shanok, L.C.S.W., Ph.D.,
Board Member

Until recently Founding Director, Institute for Infants, Children & Families, JBFCS in NYC, Dr. Shahmoon-Shanok has trained professionals from all relevant disciplines together since the late 1970’s; currently serves as Senior Research Associate for Relationships for Growth & Learning, Clinical Psychology Program, New School for Social Research; is widely published and teaches all over the country and abroad.

A pioneer in integrating mental health consultation with direct services in childcare and Head Start, Rebecca has established peer play psychotherapy for young children as a successful intervention for widely varied challenges. The Institute she began and directed at JBFCS reached young, underserved children from zero through six and their families with transdisciplinary, model services, post-degree training for providers of all disciplines and state-of-the-science consultation to government, systems and agencies. A widely- published author and energetic leader as well as an expert in Child Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) for both trauma and for developmental challenges, Rebecca has been part of a national workgroup within the Harris Professional Development Network addressing Tenets for Diversity-Informed Practice since 2011, integrating Undoing Racism teachings from the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. With degrees and experience in clinical psychology, social work, early childhood education and extensive experience in psychoanalysis and infant mental health, Rebecca is an active board member of Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, and founder and past co-president of the New York Zero-to-Three Network. With colleagues within Zero to Three, Rebecca developed and has written extensively about Reflective Supervision since its inception in the late 1980’s, more recently integrating mindful practice and staff wellness on behalf of the early childhood field.

Sally Sharp Lehman, M.S.
Board Member

Sally Sharp Lehman is a Manager in The Bridgespan Group’s Boston office. Sally has over twenty years of consulting, funding, operational and executive experience in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors. Most recently, Sally managed the Children and Families portfolio at Strategic Grant Partners (SGP), a venture philanthropy firm based in Boston. In this role, Sally managed SGP’s strategy and philanthropic investments in the areas of high-risk youth development, college access and persistence, early childhood, child welfare, workforce development, and family self-sufficiency. Sally was responsible for sourcing innovative and scalable models from a national landscape to identify and move potential grantees through due diligence (including leadership assessment, organizational assessment and landscape analysis) and strategic planning to a potential grant. Once selected for investment, Sally provided ongoing partnership and support to grantees to ensure successful implementation to achieve target outcomes.

Sally’s executive experience includes her work as Director of Operations at Cradles to Crayons (C2C) where she directed the planning and delivery of programs and operations to serve over 60,000 under- privileged children and engage over 28,000 volunteers annually. Sally also served as Regional Director at both the Jane Goodall Institute and Mass Audubon where she was responsible for strategic planning and implementation, program innovation and development, and all aspects of non-profit management. Earlier in her career, Sally was a management consultant with Harbridge House, Inc., where she consulted in the areas of strategy, organizational effectiveness, and executive education for Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries.

Sally graduated cum laude from Duke University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and French. She also holds a Master’s degree in Management cum laude from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Sally is Vice President of the board of Third Sector New England, Co-President of the Boston Duke Women’s Forum, and serves on the Advisory Council of UTEC.

Dorothy T. Richardson, Ph.D.
Board Member

Dorothy T. Richardson is a Clinical and Developmental Psychologist, Adjunct Professor at UMass Boston Department of Psychology and Program Director of the UMass Boston Infant-Parent Mental Health Fellowship.  Dr. Richardson has worked with young children and their families for over 25 years in a teaching, research and clinical capacity.  In 2003, Dr. Richardson founded the first community-based outpatient infant-parent mental health clinic in the Boston area, The Rice Center for Young Children and Families at the Boston Institute for Psychotherapy, where she served as Clinical Director for 7 years.  The Rice Center is presently housed at The Home for Little Wanderers in Boston, where she serves on the Rice Center Advisory Board and Training Faculty.  Dr. Richardson has served on a number of state advisory committees on Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, presently serving as President of MassAIMH, Birth to Six (the Massachusetts’ Chapter of the World Association of Infant Mental Health).  She co-developed, with Dr. Ed Tronick, the UMass Boston Infant Parent Mental Health Postgraduate Certificate Program, where she trains an international group of interdisciplinary clinicians (pediatrics, nursing, social work, psychology, occupational therapists and early childhood development specialists) in infant and early childhood developmental research, assessment and interventions.  Dr. Richardson maintains a private practice in the Boston area specializing in parent-child relationship-based treatments for families with children under the age of six who are dealing with disorders of behavior, communication, mood, adoption and trauma, and consults to early childcare and education settings.  Dr. Richardson earned her Masters’ in Education, in Developmental Psychology, from Harvard University Graduate School of Education and her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Boston University.

National Program Office

Darcy Lowell, M.D.
Founder & Chief Executive Officer

Also serves on the Board of Directors of Child First, Inc. She is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Yale Department of Pediatrics and Child Study Center at the Yale University School of Medicine and Section Chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics at the Bridgeport Hospital campus of Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital. Dr. Lowell is the first pediatrician nationally to be credentialed with the IMH-E (IV) Infant Mental Health Mentor Endorsement. Dr. Lowell has been directly involved with clinical services, new program development, clinical research, child advocacy, and system change and innovation at the local, state, and national levels. She has been working with very vulnerable young children and families for 30 years.
Dr. Lowell is a Fellow of Zero to Three, a member of the National Coalition of Evidence-Based Home Visiting Models (Health and Human Services), on the clinical faculty of the Yale University Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy, a member of the Harvard Center on the Developing Child’s Frontiers of Innovation, Senior Fellow of the Child Health and Development Institute of CT, clinical faculty of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in New York City, and on the Board of the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disabilities. She is on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Infant Mental Health Association and an active member of the CT Commission on Children’s Prevention Task Force, Early Childhood Education Cabinets’ Home Visiting Workgroup, Early Childhood Alliance, and DCF-Head Start Collaborative, among others. She has been active on the Children’s Behavioral Health Advisory Council, Birth to Three Medical Advisory Committee, and CT Advisory Board on Behavioral Health in Primary Care. Dr. Lowell has provided extensive training in early childhood mental health and development.
Dr. Lowell completed both a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation General Academic Pediatric Fellowship and a Child Development Fellowship at Yale University School of Medicine. She obtained her MD from New York University School of Medicine and her Bachelor’s degree from Yale University.

Mary Peniston, M.P.A.
Chief Operating Officer

Ms. Peniston has over 30 years of experience as an innovative project developer and manager with deep understanding of complex social systems gleaned from her previous work in education, early childhood, community economic development and philanthropy. Before joining the Child First leadership team in 2009, Ms. Peniston served as special assistant to the Superintendent of Schools in Norwalk where she led the development of the Norwalk Early Childhood Plan and spearheaded initiatives to build afterschool systems, improve instructional technology, and cultivate school reform. She worked in Nicaragua for eight years where she held senior positions at the Central Bank of Nicaragua and served as the Women-in-Development Program Officer for the Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA). She has worked in both the private and public banking sectors, with experience in international and community banking. She has also supported philanthropic organizations, working as a consultant for the Ford Foundation and serving as a board member of two foundations in Connecticut. Ms. Peniston received a Master in Public Affairs degree at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Latin American History and Literature from Harvard University.

Clinical & Training Departments

Rebecca Parilla, Ph.D., IMH-E (IV-C)
National Clinical Officer

Dr. Rebecca Parilla is a clinical psychologist who has been working in children’s behavioral health for over 20 years.  Her primary role with the NPO is the oversight of Child First State Clinical Directors and collaborating with Child First leadership on the replication of our clinical work nationally. Dr. Parilla has worked in community mental health systems throughout her career, offering psychological assessment and intervention for preschoolers and school-aged children.  She has presented at multiple professional conferences on the topics of maternal depression, infant mental health, attachment, trauma, and home visiting.  Dr. Parilla is endorsed by the Connecticut Association for Infant Mental Health (CT-AIMH) for culturally sensitive, relationship-focused practice promoting infant mental health as an Infant Mental Health Mentor. She is an active member of the Connecticut Association for Infant Mental Health, serving as a reflective supervisor for professionals within CTAIMH and presenting as keynote speaker at their spring conference in 2011.  Additionally, Dr. Parilla was the keynote speaker for the 2014 Connecticut MIECHV conference, where she presented on stress and its impact on young children.  Most recently, Rebecca has been the Clinical Director of the Child First Program at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital. Dr. Parilla holds a BA (cum laude with high honors in psychology) from Smith College and a doctorate from MCP Hahnemann University (current Drexel University).

Susan Killmeyer, Ph.D.
National Training Director

As the National Training Director and a member of the Child First Clinical Leadership Team, Dr. Killmeyer provides oversight and direction to all members of the Child First Training Team. In addition, she works collaboratively with the CEO, National Clinical Officer, and State/Regional Clinical Directors to operationalize systems and training procedures for national replication of Child First.

Dr. Killmeyer has spent decades in the service of young children and their families. She participated in the development of a cross-systems project to identify, refer, and treat depressed caregivers of children in a large urban Part C Early Intervention System, developed trainings for early intervention service providers to understand  the unique needs of infants and toddlers in foster care and their families, and most recently conducted research targeting the importance of responsive parenting behaviors to enhance social engagement in children 0-3 at-risk for or who have an autism spectrum disorder.

Dr. Killmeyer holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, with specialized content area expertise in Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education. She also possesses a BS in Psychology, and a M.Ed. in Early Intervention, all from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Killmeyer has four grown children, and has recently moved from Pittsburgh, PA to join the Child First team!

Salam Soliman, Psy.D.
Connecticut Clinical Director

Dr. Soliman is responsible for supporting the clinical and quality enhancements needs of the Connecticut Child First Clinical Directors. She comes to her current position having trained and worked in hospitals, courts, schools, universities and outpatient clinics. Her work has primarily focused on children, with particular interest in disrupted attachments and the long-term effects of trauma on children. Dr. Soliman is a licensed clinical psychologists and has been working in the field since 1996. Raised in Montreal, she obtained her Bachelor’s in Psychology from McGill University and went on to get a Master’s in Education from the University of Ottawa in 1998. Dr. Soliman received a second Master’s in Science with a focus on Education in 2004, and went on to receive a doctorate in Clinical and School Psychology in 2006 from Pace University

Diane Britz, L.C.S.W.
North Carolina Regional Clinical Director

Ms. Britz is responsible for the clinical consultation, training and quality enhancement for the Child First Clinical Directors within the Eastern North Carolina Region. She comes to her current position with several years’ experience working as a Child First Clinical Director in both Connecticut and North Carolina, as well as, working in and supervising other home-based programs in Connecticut. Ms. Britz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has 15 years’ experience with populations including early childhood mental health, foster care/adoption and children with special health care needs. Ms. Britz earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from University of New Hampshire in 2001. In 2004, she earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Women’s Studies from Syracuse University. 

Ann Theriault, M.A.
Instructional Design Specialist

Ann Theriault brings over 10 years of experience in public education and curricular development to the Child First training team.  Her knowledge of learning styles, effective pedagogical practices, and educational technology informs the development of our training curriculum. She works closely with the consultants on an educational design team, developing and integrating strategies that make distance learning interactive and effective. Ms. Theriault received her Master’s in Education from the University of Bridgeport and has a B.A. in Psychology from Eastern Connecticut State University. 

Communication Department

Sherry Linton-Massiah, M.S.
Communication & Partnerships Director

Ms. Linton-Massiah plays a critical role in keeping the public and stakeholders well informed about Child First through the implementation of effective communication strategies. In addition, Ms. Linton-Massiah supports the growth and development of Child First as an active participant in identifying and cultivating funding sources and supporting strategic planning efforts. She comes to Child First with more than fifteen years of experience in the early childhood field. Her professional experience includes her roles as the Project Director of the Governor’s Early Childhood Education Cabinet, the Early Care and Education Policy Analyst at the Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS) and most recently, she assumed a role at Xerox, in the Government Healthcare Solutions Division, as the Manager of Training, Appeals and Quality Assurance. Her knowledge of early childhood, coupled with her state experience, gives Ms. Linton-Massiah the breadth and depth to understand the complex early childhood landscape in our state. She holds a Master’s in Communication from Central Connecticut State University and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Trinity College.

Data Department

Kim DiBella-Farber, MSW
National Data and Quality Officer

Ms. DiBella-Farber has served as an executive leader in the nonprofit field for over a decade. She has a talent for proactively identifying opportunities for improvement and effectively executing solutions. She has led organizational shifts toward data driven decisions with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of the children and families served.  She believes that through collaboration we can understand when, how, and why our programs are successful, identify obstacles and implement practice changes to improve outcomes. Prior to joining Child First, Ms. DiBella-Farber most recently served as the Chief Operating Officer and Director of Quality and Operations at the Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut.  She had previously worked in New York City at Good Shepherd Services as the Quality Improvement Director and with the Administration for Children’s Services as a Quality Service Reviewer.  Ms. DiBella-Farber is a Licensed Master Social Worker in both Connecticut and New York. She holds a Master of Science in Social Work from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Connecticut.

Anne Davino, L.C.S.W.
Data & Quality Improvement Director

Ms. Davino joined Child First, Inc. coming from the position of Program Supervisor at Catholic Charities in Waterbury where she was responsible for managing state contracts for behavioral health services which included data management, clinical and administrative staff supervision and oversight of contract compliance and quality assurance. She also assisted in the implementation of the agency’s new electronic health record and was responsible for maintaining adherence with HIPAA, Medicaid, DPH and COA regulations. Prior to her position at Catholic Charities, Ms. Davino served as Executive Director at two agencies - The ALS Association Connecticut Chapter in Milford, CT and Unitas Therapeutic Community, Inc. in the Bronx, NY. She has received numerous awards including the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Hartford’s Leadership Award in 2007; Employee of the Month awarded by Donna Shalala, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in recognition of contributions to the Department’s initiative on workplace violence; and program recognition at the National ALS Association convention. Ms. Davino received her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Maryland and is licensed in CT, and has a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Connecticut.

Gagan Sharma, M.S.
Technology and Reporting Manager

Gagan Sharma joins Child First with experience in various industries, such as Finance, Manufacturing, Consulting, and Education. Mr. Sharma has a technical background in full life cycle of software project development in areas like web applications, client-server architecture, database, system design and specifications, deployment, and support. At Child First, Mr. Sharma will be responsible for creating and coding customized reports and data dashboards, while helping to build a new, more robust data system for the National Program Office and nationwide Affiliate sites. He will manage all internal data protection, technological processes, data transfer, and technology standards. Since 2011, Mr. Sharma has volunteered with a Stamford based non-profit organization, Stamford Public Education Foundation (SPEF), a mentoring program for children in Stamford Public Schools. Mr. Sharma received his Master’s degree in Computer Applications from the Harcourt Butler Technological Institute in India, and possesses an undergraduate degree in Electronics from the University of Delhi, India.

Shameka Johnson, M.S.
Database Training and Support Manager

As the Database Training and Support Manager, Shameka Johnson plays a critical role in promoting the successful implementation and utilization of the data management systems for all Child First affiliate sites. She joins Child First, after many dedicated years of working for nonprofit organizations and the local government, in our Nation’s Capital, serving vulnerable youth, families, and communities. She also has substantial experience providing solution driven customer service and ensuring customers’ needs are met through trainings, informational documents and efficiently managing inquiry systems.

Ms. Johnson has worked in both direct services as well as leadership capacities advocating with and on behalf of D.C.’s neediest residents.  She has worked as the Information Services Manager on a government contract that managed the information and call center for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). In addition, as a Program Manager for an evidence-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funded program, which provided individual and group level interventions and HIV and STD testing and counseling services to youth and young adults in Washington, D.C., Ms. Johnson ensured targeted outreach and access to free confidential sexual health services through developing partnerships with the public and charter school systems as well as public libraries. She has also co-taught preschool and kindergarten, for a short time, at a branch of the YWCA in the DC Metropolitan area, and understands the importance of the developing brain of a child from 0 – 5 years of age.

Ms. Johnson received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, with a minor in Education at Trinity College, in Washington, D.C., and possesses a Master of Science in Health Promotion from Marymount University in Virginia. 

Kim Cerullo, M.S.W.
Data and Quality Administrative Specialist

As the Data and Quality Administrative Specialist, Kim Cerullo supports data, reporting and quality enhancement efforts to ensure a high level of data integrity and program quality throughout the national Child First network.

Prior to joining the Child First Team, Ms. Cerullo worked in a variety of settings focused on advocating for the needs of children and their families through data analysis and policy change, including the University of Connecticut's Rainbow Center, the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund, and the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate. During an internship at the Office of the Child Advocate, she investigated the possible causes of youth suicide in Connecticut as well as the resulting impact on the community.

Ms. Cerullo holds a Master of Social Work, with a concentration in Policy Practice, from the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Connecticut.

Finance Department

Andrea Dooley-King
Finance Manager

Andrea Dooley-King joins Child First as the Finance Manager, with 25 years of experience as an accountant. Ms. Dooley-King’s supports the organization’s day-to-day financial operations and assists Child First Leadership in preparation of the budget.  This includes responsibility for all accounting, grant and contract reporting, employee benefits review and reporting, and general purchasing. In addition to her professional experience, Ms. Dooley-King is also very committed to her community involvement as Treasurer of Quilts of Care, an initiative that provides quilts to cancer patients. She holds an accounting degree from Post University.

Human Resource Department

Diana Liptak
Human Resources and Office Manager

Ms. Liptak handles all human resources administration and day to day logistics of the Child First National Program Office.  She comes to Child First with a background in non-profit program leadership and development. She formerly directed the Child Care Center at the New Canaan Community YMCA where she had previously served as the director of the Center’s Full Day Program and Head Teacher. With her cumulative experience, Ms. Liptak brings her proficiency in facility operations and engaging staff to promote team effectiveness and commitment.  She has a BA in Child Psychology from Sacred Heart University.