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Michelle Zabel, MSS - University of Connecticut. Hartford, CT, US

Michelle Zabel, MSS

Executive Director of Innovations Institute | University of Connecticut


Michelle Zabel and her team advance research-based, culturally responsive solutions for child, youth, and family-serving public systems.


Michelle Zabel, MSS, is the Executive Director at Innovations Institute and an Associate Extension Professor at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. She has over 30 years of experience working in and advising child- and family-serving systems, public and private sectors, at agency, local, and state levels across the nation. She has expertise in implementation science, service system design and sustainable financing, evidence-based and promising practices, tiered care coordination, residential redesign, and crisis response systems. Michelle was the founding director of Innovations Institute in 2005 and, today manages a team of more than 50 faculty and staff with 50 contracts, worth over $15 million annually, with the federal government, multiple state and county governments, foundations, and private organizations that span multiple years. She has been Principal Investigator (PI) for multiple state and federal contracts including two CMS-funded demonstration grants. She participated in multiple state contracts that included evaluation and CQI centered around system redesign, service array development, and sustainable public financing. She has served as Principal Investigator and Project Director for SAMHSA’s National Training and Technical Assistance Center for Children, Youth, and Family Mental Health; as subject matter expert to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors; and as a member of SAMHSA’s Child, Adolescent, and Family Branch Council. Under Michelle’s leadership, Innovations has developed expert capacities in health and human services systems, crisis response systems, LGBTQ+ and early childhood populations, policy and financing, systems design research and evaluation, and workforce development, all to improve outcomes for children, youth, young adults, and their families. Michelle’s work, and that of the Institute she leads, advances research-based, inclusive, culturally responsive, and transformative solutions for child-, youth-and family-serving public systems, and supports the workforce within these systems.

Areas of Expertise (5)

Care Coordination

Crisis Response Systems

Implementation Science

Sustainable Financing

Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI)

Education (2)

Bryn Mawr College: MSS, Social Service & Clinical Social Work 1994

Eastern University: B.A., Sociology 1990

Accomplishments (3)

Paula Hamburger Child Advocacy Award, Mental Health Association of Maryland (professional)


Honorable Mention - Extraordinary Public Service to the University or to the Greater Community, University System of Maryland (professional)


Family Partnership Award, Maryland Coalition of Families for Children’s Mental Health (professional)








UMB Champions of Excellence - Managing Now for a Better Tomorrow TTI 2022 Information Exchange: Understanding and Planning for Children’s Mobile Crisis The Cornerstone of Care: Building a Skilled Workforce Meet-Me Call (2/2022): Children’s Crisis Continuum and 988 Implementation


Media Appearances (1)

Red Lake Nation's Ombimindwaa Gidanawemaaganinaadog Intergenerational Family Wellness Program awarded a 4-year grant for $1.5 million

Red Lake Nation News  online


"The Children's Bureau Quality Improvement Center (QIC) model is the kind of work the Institute wants to be involved with on behalf of children and their families," said Michelle Zabel, assistant dean and director of the Institute.

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Articles (3)

Evaluation of a systems-level technical assistance program to support youth with complex behavioral health needs

Evaluation and Program Planning

2022 The National Technical Assistance Network for Children's Behavioral Health (TA Network) supports the development and implementation of Systems of Care (SOC) for youth with serious emotional disorders and their families in states, tribes, territories, and communities throughout the United States. The purpose of the current research was to conduct an evaluation of the TA Network to assess: The degree to which it has deployed research-based elements of TA; levels of participant satisfaction; types and scope of TA services provided; and systems-level outcomes. Study participants were drawn from a stratified random sample of SOC grant recipients who received technical support from the TA Network between 2013 and 2017. Results suggest that the TA Network has encompassed research-based elements of effective TA. Participants rated their interactions with the network very highly, and they accessed a wide variety of resources from the network. Finally, participants reported a variety of systems-level outcomes associated with TA Network support. Together, these findings underscore the importance of structuring TA systems to tailor support to fit with recipients' needs, build positive, proactive relationships, and offer services of sufficient dosage. Given the lack of rigorous evaluations on provision of TA, future studies can confirm the degree to which such tailored approaches to TA result in increased satisfaction, more effective implementation of SOC principles, and ultimately improved outcomes for youth and families.

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Manuscript: Defining Quality Standards for Intensive Home Based Treatment Programs for Youth with Serious Emotional Disorders

Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research

2021 Intensive Home Based Treatment (IHBT) is a critical component of the continuum of community-based behavioral healthcare for youth with serious emotional disorder (SED) and their families. Yet despite being used nationwide at costs of over $100 million annually in some states, a well-vetted, research-based set of quality standards for IHBT has yet to be developed. The current project aimed to define program and practice standards for IHBT, drawing upon literature review, expert interviews, and a systematic Delphi process engaging over 80 participants, including IHBT developers, experts in evidence-based youth mental health, youth and family advocates, IHBT providers, and state policymakers. After two rounds of quantitative and qualitative input, adequate consensus was achieved on 32 IHBT Program Standards and 43 IHBT Practice Standards. These standards hold potential for informing efforts such as development of state regulations, provider contracts, memoranda of agreement, and training and workforce development initiatives. Translation of the quality standards into measurement strategies holds potential for providing a method of continuous quality improvement across multiple levels as well as use in research on IBHT.

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Developing an Evidence-Based Technical Assistance Model: a Process Evaluation of the National Training and Technical Assistance Center for Child, Youth, and Family Mental Health

The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research

2020 The National Training and Technical Assistance Center for Child, Youth, and Family Mental Health (NTTAC) supports the development and implementation of systems of care (SOC) for youth with serious emotional disorders (SED) and their families. This article presents results from a process evaluation of NTTAC, conducted to support the Center's quality improvement and contribute to the knowledge base around provision of technical assistance (TA). The evaluation used a mixed methods approach with data collection focused on a defined subset of NTTAC TA recipients-recipients of federal Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children SOC grants. Data sources included coded administrative records from SOC grant sites, administrative data from NTTAC, standardized measures of SOC development, and stakeholder survey data. Results indicate that TA dosage matched needs and goals of TA recipients (SOC sites), overall levels of satisfaction with TA were high, and TA content was generally aligned with need. TA recipients reported significant progress on indicators of SOC development over time. Together, these findings suggest that it is possible to develop TA methods that reflect the level and type of TA recipients' goals and needs, and, in turn, positively impact SOC development and behavioral health service delivery.

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