Margaret Pennington, MSSW

Director of Planning, Evaluation, and Consultation


Margaret Pennington serves as the Director of Policy, Evaluation, and Consultation Services at REACH. In that role, and under the leadership of Dr. Illback, she is responsible for: organizing and directing the work of REACH’s interdisciplinary evaluation team; serving as evaluation researcher; developing and identifying planning and evaluation opportunities; and marketing REACH’s extraordinary evaluation research capacity.

Prior to coming to REACH, between July 1999 and December 2003, Margaret served as the Commissioner of the Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities. In that capacity, she oversaw the delivery of publicly funded mental health, intellectual disabilities, substance abuse, and acquired brain injury services, and led the shift toward evidence based practices. Accomplishments during her tenure included the completion of the statewide network of regional centers for adults and children experiencing a mental health crisis, the almost doubling of the state’s capacity to provide comprehensive community services to individuals with intellectual disabilities, the creation of a statewide infrastructure for serving adults with brain injuries, and the expansion of services to women who abuse substances and the accompanying improvements in health outcomes for their children.

For 14 years, Margaret worked in the Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, first as the Branch Manager of the Children’s Branch and then as Director of the Department. She played a key role in the decriminalization of the involuntary commitment process; the design and implementation of a system of care for children with severe emotional disabilities; and the enhanced involvement of consumers and families in the design and delivery of services.

From 1972 to 1985, she worked for the former Departments of Child Welfare and Social Services, where she began her career in child protection and foster care. Recognizing the right of every child to a family, Margaret advocated for and initiated the Special Needs Adoption Program.

In her capacity as Commissioner, Margaret served on a number of statewide boards and commissions, including the Center for School Safety’s Board of Directors, the State Interagency Council for Children with Emotional Disabilities, the State Housing Policy Advisory Committee, and the two new commissions that are charged with the development of ten-year plans for delivery of mental health, substance abuse and mental retardation services.

She represented the southern states on the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors and was the Vice President of that Board prior to her retirement.

Margaret attended Hanover College and graduated with honors from the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville.

She is married to Dr. Gary E. Pennington, a marriage and family therapist and Presbyterian minister. They live in Louisville.