Alumni News: Children’s Mental Health is Focus of Rice


Securing more resources for children’s mental health services is a key goal for Okpara Rice, MSW ’97, who has been named CEO at Tanager Place, a clinic that services thousands of children with behavioral or psychiatric disorders. The clinic, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, offers a variety of programs with the ultimate goal, Rice says, of “finding ways to help kids be successful and feel successful.”

As he looks back on his experience at the Brown School, Rice said he most appreciates his close interaction with the faculty. “One of the things about Washington University that I really enjoyed was the access to professors,” he said. “They talked about what was happening in the field and where you could impact it.”

He found early on that he liked systems-level thinking and solutions, looking at the business side of social services and making it work.

He served at a variety of agencies before joining Tanager in 2013, where he served as executive director until his promotion July 1. The clinic expanded and now can serve as many as 4,000 children. Some are treated through Tanager Place’s outpatient mental health clinic, in-patient and community-based programs, Camp Tanager and the Expressive Arts program.

“We have an opportunity with children to intervene earlier,” Rice said. “We need to have an honest dialogue about how we resource the mental health side of things, to have access to care for people when they need it.”

Rice is active in his field and in the community; he currently serves as president of the board of directors for the American Association of Children’s Residential Centers.