Katie Olse’s years of leading the Alliance are credited as the ones that changed everything. During her time, membership has much more than doubled and diversified, the organization’s scope of work has broadened, the Center has expanded in real -time, and the staff has multiplied. Katie will be leaving the Alliance this summer for a national human services organization. She will be sorely missed by the staff, the members, and our partners. 

An Indiana native, Katie and her then boyfriend, now husband, were brought to Austin at the promise of a thriving music scene. SXSW called and they answered in the early 2000s (think front row years of the Strokes, Stripes, and the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s). The TACFS Board hired Katie late in 2016 after her several long and effective years at Texas DFPS and HHSC. Before that, she had built a policy career in previous roles with the Indiana legislature and other organizations. Although she’d considered being a teacher or a lawyer throughout her life, her parents instilled in her the drive to serve the public.  And those first roles swept her away into the public policy and service arena.  

“This is where the action happens,” Katie said. She’d seen real change take place and locked into the child welfare scene. 

In rising all the way to Deputy Commissioner of Texas DFPS during her time there, Katie worked closely with community providers and even attended and spoke at the Center’s annual conference. Investigating issues alongside other executives and community-based providers brought her new perspective on how the system could be transformed. 

“I’m over here in a conference room all day taking briefing after briefing about the apparatus of the state system. It was not until starting at TACFS that I got to see the real work with children and families.  TACFS members, the providers, taught me the importance of the direct work with children.”  

She applied to the open CEO position at the Alliance with an itch to see and understand the work at all levels and from different views. 

Sarah Combs, TACFS Director of Operations and office historian, remembers Katie’s first days the best. She’s been at the Alliance 17 years. In 2016, after the Board’s announcement that Katie had been hired, she knocked on the front door of the Alliance’s office carrying a couple of boxes and wearing a pair of culottes Sarah remembers to this day. “I remember opening the door and thinking, how funny her style was.” Sarah said, laughing. “The next time I saw her, she was in overalls.” Sarah might be the one to miss Katie the most. In an all-remote staff, the two office next to each other and share the most memories from when the staff was just three people (another of Katie’s tremendous accomplishments). 

Making Waves at TACFS 

When she was hired as the CEO of TACFS, Katie started the job with a tour of member visits.  

“I immediately knew that they were committed to this work. I learned that the answer to how to improve the system really lies within communities and in particular, with providers.” 

She could also tell that there was room for growth. The visits showed her that many organizations were already doing so much more than just foster care. The full continuum was already in action. She saw prevention work, post-adoption, family and youth supports, CSEY, and more that was only bubbling under the surface at the Capitol. 

“I immediately knew the power of the voice of providers and that it needed to be harnessed.” 

Katie went to work attracting and building a strong team. This is one of her proudest achievements from her time at the Alliance. When she arrived, there were three employees including her. Just shy of eight years later, there are almost 30 people on staff. She’s proud of the expertise represented on the team. 

“This team is the envy of other organizations because of the array of personal and professional experience they bring.” 

Katie also credits foresight (and anxiety) to the growth the Alliance has enjoyed during her tenure. She also credits her husband, Mike, her two boys Liam and Levi, and her parents Stan and Marsha Renner for their continuous support and many times hands-on help with loading up the car, stuffing Conference bags to filling Covid care packges.  She’s careful to focus on both today and tomorrow. Many of the opportunities that have allowed for the Alliance’s growth are a focus on forthcoming issues. Several years ago those were issues like the statewide foster care capacity shortage, rate modernization, the expansion of Community-Based Care, and prevention. And now they are issues like mental health and transition.  

The Same Goes for the Center 

Katie recognized the same potential in the Center which, at the time of her arrival, was an in-name-only entity. She immediately spotted an opportunity to serve providers through the non-profit. 

“It could be the go-to hub of training and support for the provider community.” 

The first opportunity to infuse some energy into the Center came with Hurricane Harvey. The State wanted to downgrant emergency funds to providers and the Center facilitated the dispersal of those funds quickly. From then on, TACFS staff (led by Katie and the board’s vision) sought out opportunities to develop the Center through the Conference, training, research, technical assistance, grants, and more.  

“The Alliance will always be about our members and advocacy for public policy and funding they need to deliver quality services.  The Center will always be about lifting up our whole industry.” 

Today, the Center is a partner to several organizations on statewide and grant-funded projects including the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, the University of Texas at Austin, and the Selfless Love Foundation. And last year, the Center provided training to more than 1,600 professionals online and 1,500 at the annual Conference. 

Moving On 

Katie says the most challenging thing about this work has been that there just isn’t enough time in the day to do all the things she wants to do.  

“I’ve never felt like I didn’t have clarity about what we should do,” Katie said. “It’s only frustrating not to have enough time.” 

Now, Katie’s on her way to make a national impact. But she’ll be bringing some valuable lessons with her. She says that from those first member visits in her early weeks to today in her last month on the job, providers are at the core of system change. They’re the closest to the kids and families after all. She wants to remember that (and reminds the staff of it in her final Team Meeting).  

“That’s our strongest asset. That’s the secret sauce.”  

She remembers many meetings, panels, roundtables, and opportunities to advocate where keeping grounded to the members saved the day.  

“Anything must be executable, implementable, operational! Knowing that it will fall on providers, if you really want to see the impact of your great idea, it was to be operational.” 

Looking ahead, Katie knows TACFS will continue to shape the future of child and family well-being in Texas.  The Board, its members, the team and our strong partnerships will lead the way to a strong and healthy system for today and tomorrow.