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Davis named Child Advocate of the Year; journalist, trainer recognized

A trio of awards presented at today’s conference luncheon lifted up different facets of the child protection system.

PCSAO named Amanda Davis as the Crystal Ward Allen Child Advocate of the Year and Tim Botos of The Canton Repository as the Journalist of the Year. The Ohio Child Welfare Training Program Regional Training Center coordinators presented Darren Varnado with the Dan Schneider Leadership in Training award.

Amanda Davis

2015 Crystal Ward Allen Child Advocate of the Year

Amanda Davis

Effective advocates for child protection and permanency must possess many important qualities: A firm grasp of the subject matter, a dedication to reform over the long term, an ability to connect with policy makers. Most important, they have to show up. This year’s Crystal Ward Allen Child Advocate of the Year, Amanda Davis, is all of this and more. The award, named for PCSAO’s former executive director, is appropriate for Amanda because she shares Crystal’s tenacity and passion for child welfare advocacy.

Crystal could not be here today but is especially excited that we are recognizing an alum or the child welfare system. Crystal told us, “Our youth are so very resilient when given safety, permanency and stability. Their authentic voices are heard in a totally different – and often more effective – way than our ‘system’ voices, whether it be inspiring other youth in care for success, providing insights to caseworkers and caregivers in trainings, or even talking with policy makers for investments and enhancements. Congratulations to Amanda! We are all so proud to work with you.”

Amanda is one of those foster care success stories. She entered care at age nine and was adopted after spending four years in our system, along with her younger sister. Amanda has served as an officer for Foster Care Alumni of America-Ohio Chapter (recently renamed ACTION Ohio) since 2006. She delivered workshops at national conferences and lobbied members of Congress about post-adoption services, all before she started college! Since earning a BSW at The Ohio State University, she has been putting her social work license to use as a clinician at House of New Hope in St. Louisville in Licking County.

Amanda also serves as a trainer for the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program, presenting on Positive Youth Development, Lifelong Connections and Permanency Planning; Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; and Permanency Roundtables Values. She is a member of the Permanency Roundtables Advisory Council, helping grow this 11-county pilot program aimed at moving foster youth into permanent homes. She delivered the keynote address at the fifth annual Adoption Advocacy Day in 2013. Aside from these professional accomplishments, Amanda is a proud wife, mother and homeowner who never forgets that being adopted out of foster care gave her opportunities that those who emancipate from care often don’t have.

But it is for Amanda’s outstanding advocacy this year that she is receiving this award. Time and again, Amanda testified before the Ohio General Assembly and various budget committees on the need for greater investment by the state in our child protection system, particularly investments in adoption and permanency. She carefully prepared her testimony, balancing her personal story as an alum of the system with her adult perspective now working for the system, always coming back to the urgent need for improving permanency outcomes for youth. She arrived at the Statehouse promptly before each hearing began, endured the long (sometimes unbearably long) wait, and on one occasion was forced to extemporize a much shorter version of her testimony on the spot when time had run out. Her patience, quiet confidence, and professionalism were truly remarkable, and while we did not secure additional investments in this budget, Amanda helped us lay the groundwork for future discussions.

Amanda’s clarity and poise made an impression on every legislator who heard her speak, so much so that several followed her into the hall after her testimony to speak with her personally.

Tim Botos, The Canton Repository

2015 PCSAO Journalist of the Year

Over the last year, Tim Botos has written several articles highlighting the work of Stark County’s children services division. He shared information that focused public attention on child protection, child abuse awareness, and the need for permanency for children through adoption.

After highlighting Stark’s adoption calendar back in 2013, Tim contacted Stark County last fall to suggest a follow-up article letting the community know what happened to the children featured in the calendar. The article, entitled “Homes found for 7 of 16 kids,” appeared on the front page, bringing awareness to waiting children not just in November during Adoption Awareness Month, but throughout the year. The article included a number of interviews with youth and agency staff, including one with Darian, a young man whose adoption was near completion. Tim’s gentle approach is part of what sets him apart from other reporters. Tim realized during the interview that Darian is shy and reticent. He adapted his approach to engage Darian calmly and patiently, even joking with him until Darian relaxed and warmed to the interview. In the end, Darian was joking too, laughing with Tim while sharing his story.

Tim is a talented reporter, capturing the personality of his subjects. In April, he covered an awareness event at the child advocacy center. The headline – “Children’s Network adds a dog, a cop and pajamas” – drew readers in, informing them about the special service that treats victims of sexual or severe physical abuse with the utmost sensitivity and reduces the likelihood of retraumatizing them. Tim digs deep to get the real story behind the statistics of child welfare. He sees a need for a story and tells that story in a way that engages the reader and makes a difference. His factual, balanced article about the Stark County children services levy helped voters come to the polls better informed.

Darren Varnado

2015 Dan Schneider Leadership in Training Award

Dan Varnado

As the first full-time director of PCSAO, Dan Schneider spent a lifetime advocating for children and families in Ohio. His vision of excellence in the training of child welfare professionals helped shape the formation of the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program.

Since 2003, the Dan Schneider Leadership in Training Award is presented annually at the PCSAO Conference to an individual who reflects Dan’s commitment to improving the lives of Ohio’s children and families by providing unwavering support for the professional development of Ohio’s child welfare staff reflecting best-practice ideals.

Besides being a great and supportive boss and someone who could always be counted on to make things run smoothly and make things you thought were impossibilities possible, Darren has been a great leader who helped shape the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program in so many ways. Darren was instrumental in the development and implementation of our much-needed learning management system and was involved with so many initiatives it would be impossible to mention them all. Whenever and wherever there was a need in the program, we could always count on Darren being there.

Dale Hotaling, director of the Western Regional Training Center, shared these thoughts:

“Darren and I started with the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program together in the mid-nineties over 20 years ago. We both started as coordinators and became RTC directors of neighboring regions in the late nineties. I consider him a great friend as well as a colleague. In the 21 years I have been a member of the OCWTP, there is nobody that I can think of who has had a bigger impact in the success and development of our program. His energy, ideas, willingness to share and contribute are unparalleled. I am so pleased that such a deserving person is getting this prestigious award this year.”