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Ellen Cokinos Consulting for Nonprofits

To Serve, Strengthen and Sustain

Ellen Tsilimigras Cokinos

The Junior League of Houston Magazine

By Margot Steenland Cater

Ellen remembers her family teaching her never to accept something, which she knew was wrong, and to always leave a situation in better condition than when you found it. These were powerful words for this young professional who came to Houston over 20 years ago to study full-time to earn her Masters Degree in Social Work at the University of Houston by night while working full-time at CPS by day.

Luckily for Houston, Ellen met her husband, Paige Cokinos, a Beaumont native tuned Houstonian, while she was in graduate school. They now have two children, Alexandra, age 15, and Demetrios, age 18, who attend The Kinkaid School.

Ellen’s professional career had begun prior to her arrival in Houston, when she had worked as a foster care caseworker for abused children in Michigan. She watched these children be hurt even more as they moved through the cumbersome legal, medical and social services intake and assessment process leading up to placement and treatment.

Ellen remembers that laws at that time were not set up to be forward thinking. Children, who had been abused, had to endure repetitive questioning by multiple well-meaning clinical staff. They were required to tell their painful stories many times. They were examined by medical personnel who were untrained for gathering the types of evidence required for court testimony. Often cases were lost as the professionals failed to produce the necessary evidence against the perpetrator. The assessments of these severely traumatized children were not coordinated to reduce their pain while efficiently gathering the necessary information.

Upon completion of her Master’s Degree, a very young Ellen Cokinos rose quickly through the Children’s Protective Services Agency. From a sexual abuse caseworker, to Supervisor of a Division, Ellen became a Program Director with overall management for all social workers who delivered services to young children suffering physical abuse mainly by their caretakers, and all sexual abuse cases reported to Harris County CPS.

She and other professionals were still very disturbed about the difficult and insensitive intake process for these very troubled children. At this time in the 1980s, a Houston Chronicle reporter followed Ellen off and on for a week, studying the inefficient and lengthy assessment and investigative process for abused children. A parallel concern for these children arose in Houston’s private sector.

At this time, Ellen met Junior League President, Susan French, who became a partner seeking reform from the earliest stages. Over time, they convinced other Junior League Sustainers Roz Hill, Laura Higley, Gracie McClure, Dr. Margaret McNeese, Carol Ray, and Dr. Maconda Brown O’Connor and others to become involved, and certainly this was a team to be reckoned with! As Ellen says, “We were a relentless, vociferous group!”

This group convinced Harris County Judge Jon Lindsay of the need to sensitively assess abused children by a coordinated effort of well-trained professionals. They visited then Governor George Bush, First Lady Hillary Clinton and many Texas Congressmen and women in Washington D.C. to tell their story and to provide lawmakers with examples on how laws and funding mechanisms could be created to assist children through the civil and criminal court systems. Ellen and her staff visited and trained other states and countries across the globe on how to implement a collaborative model in communities as well as highlighting their experiences with the challenges raised by such a partnership.

With many Junior League members forming the catalyst, the concept of The Children’s Assessment Center, with integrated service provision by law enforcement, medical doctors and social workers for abused children, was born. A public private partnership allowed purchase of land and the construction of a 60,000 square foot building at 2500 Bolsover in the Village where all these professionals are currently housed. State-of-the-art technology is utilized to videotape children’s statements so that the child must only relate this horror one time. There are trained medical personnel, who understand how to examine such a child. Therapists are housed on-site so that children and families have an array of services to meet all of their needs as they try to cope and recover from this trauma.

This is an exciting story illustrating once again how the Houston Junior League sees a real need in our community and utilizes its expertise to bring dedicated professionals like Ellen Cokinos to explain the issues to governmental representatives and convincing them to form unique social service partnerships with the private sector to find a solution to a very desperate need. The Children’s Assessment Center is now sensitively resolving the cases of these children in need; it has become a model of its kind for other cities throughout the world.

Since that time, Ellen formed her own company and is a consultant to several non-profits in Houston on strategic planning, board and fund development. She also serves on several national, state, and local boards as a volunteer.

Her favorite quote is as follows, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”

“Under Ellen’s direction, Houston’s Children’s Assessment Center — her brainchild — set the standard for child-friendly intervention systems for sexually abused children. Her impact has reached well beyond the thousands of children and families CAC has directly served. She is a tremendous advocate.”

Lynn Kamin, JD
Founding Board Member, Children’s Assessment Center

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Ellen Cokinos