Advocating for safe children, stable families, and supportive communities
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Columbus, OH 43215 — 614-224-5802

Wednesday conference awards: Legislators, journalist, advocate

Today, PCSAO kicked off its annual conference with the first of three awards luncheons.

Gayle Channing Tenenbaum Outstanding Legislators of the Year

PCSAO is pleased to honor two women with this year’s Gayle Channing Tenenbaum Legislator of the Year award. Named for PCSAO’s longtime champion and advocate, Gayle Channing Tenenbaum, these awards recognize outstanding leadership—and action—by legislators on issues impacting children and families served by the child protective services system.

The Honorable Sarah LaTourette, Ohio House of Representatives, 76th District

LaTourette

Rep. LaTourette is currently finishing her first term in the Ohio House of Representatives, representing the 76th House District, which includes most of Geauga and northern Portage counties.

As a freshman legislator, Rep. LaTourette has achieved much already. She serves in leadership, having been elected Assistant Majority Whip by her peers. (For those of you far removed from high school civics class, this means she is responsible for monitoring legislation and securing votes on the floor.)

She has been primary sponsor of 9 bills and cosponsor of an additional 82 bills. She serves on 4 standing committees. I think it’s fair to say that Rep. LaTourette’s role as a legislator reflects her larger commitment and experience to giving back in meaningful ways. Prior to being elected, Rep. LaTourette worked for a nonprofit dedicated to helping people with Parkinson’s disease. She has also worked with the Adoption Network of Cleveland, serves as a mentor for foster care youth, is on the board of the Ohio Children’s Trust Fund, and has volunteered with a Golden Retriever rescue organization.

She is truly someone who puts her compassion into action. And, she came to Columbus with an understanding of some of the challenges that families face, that children face, and that the child protective services system faces.

The work that we are honoring Rep. LaTourette for today is her role as Vice-Chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Multi-System Youth. You may recall that PCSAO successfully advocated for this committee to be established in the last budget bill because you—our members—identified multi-system youth as a priority issue.

We were so pleased when the Committee began its work by choosing Senator Randy Gardner as Chair and Rep. LaTourette as Vice-Chair. Under their leadership, the committee process was inclusive, intentional and focused on identifying concrete solutions to help these youth and their families get the services they need—without having to resort to custody relinquishment. Throughout, Rep. LaTourette was steadfast in making sure that many voices and perspectives were heard–especially those of the youth and families themselves. She listened, asked great questions, guided the schedule and hearings in a strategic way, and incorporated what she learned into the final report of the committee. All this while preparing for the birth of her first child who came in April.

Most importantly, we know that her work on this issue will continue. She is committed to pursuing the resources and policy changes to implement the great recommendations that came out of that committee. That is the sign of a leader, and we all know that we need leaders who will prioritize helping Ohio’s abused and neglected children.

We are honored to present Rep. Sarah LaTourette with the 2016 Gayle Channing Tenenbaum Legislator of the Year award.

The Honorable Peggy Lehner, Ohio Senate, 6th District

Senator Lehner has served in the Senate since 2011, representing the 6th District, which includes parts of Montgomery County. She has a long career in elected office, including one term in the Ohio House of Representatives as well as 10 years as a member of Kettering City Council.

She currently serves on a number of significant Senate committees, including Criminal Justice, Finance, Health and Human Services, and Medicaid. And she chairs the Senate Education Committee. In fact, I would be hard pressed to name another legislator who has been such an influential voice on education policy as Senator Lehner.

That’s not all. Senator Lehner is also a founding Co-Chair of the Children’s Caucus, a bipartisan committee that focuses on promoting the well-being of children and has taken the lead on advancing early childhood issues for the poorest children in our state.

And more recently, Senator Lehner served as a member of the Joint Legislative Committee on Multi-System Youth, along with Rep. LaTourette. Through that committee work, Senator Lehner showed again and again a deep understanding and appreciation for the challenges facing youth involved in the child protective services system and/or at risk of involvement in other systems such as juvenile justice. She also was a vocal advocate that Ohio must do better for all kids, and especially those youth who are so traumatized or have such severe behavioral health needs that they require residential treatment. To quote Senator Lehner herself, she said, “I’m like a dog with a bone on this issue. I am not going to stop until these families get what they need.”

When Senator Lehner takes on an issue, we know something will come of it. She listens, seeks and incorporates input, learns from others’ experiences and best practices, and works to craft a solution that is meaningful and attainable–not always easy in a political environment.

We have appreciated the open door we have with Senator Lehner to discuss issues and explore solutions. We need leaders like her to make sure that Ohio’s abused and neglected children are front and center in the policy-making world.

It is our pleasure to present the 2016 Gayle Channing Tenenbaum Legislator of the Year award to Senator Peggy Lehner.

Journalist of the Year

Dan Horn, The Cincinnati Enquirer

Horn

In this era of consolidated media outlets and shrinking newspaper readership, journalists are working harder than ever to deliver relevant news that competes with the immediacy of online and broadcast media. That’s why we were pleasantly surprised when Dan Horn of The Cincinnati Enquirer spent an entire year following a foster youth and reporting on her journey to emancipation.

In “Finding Her Way Home,” Dan chronicled the story of Nadia Goforth during her final year in the custody of Hamilton County Job and Family Services. An honors student with great grades, a high ACT score, and plans to attend an elite university, Nadia fell victim to common obstacles facing our youth in custody. The feature story recounted her triumphs as well as her struggles to reach her goals. Ultimately she did not achieve her dream of attending an elite university, nor did she have a backup plan when that fell through. But readers responded with sympathy. The story led to a better public understanding of the challenges of aging out of the foster care system, and resulted in private donors and a local university reaching out to Nadia to offer scholarships and other aid to cover tuition and housing costs. Today Nadia is a full-time college student at the University of Cincinnati.

Dan’s profile brought to life the unique challenges foster youth face without the support of a parent or family, illustrating how being smart and working hard may not always be enough. Dan went where few others go, immersing himself in Nadia’s life so that he could provide an accurate, compelling portrait of aging out. Dan has explored other facets of the child protection system for the Enquirer, particularly the complex federal, state and local financing mix that creates inequity across county lines in Ohio. For his fair and thorough reporting, PCSAO is pleased to present Dan Horn with the 2016 Journalist of the Year award.

Crystal Ward Allen Child Advocate of the Year (Private Agency Champion)

Denise St. Clair

St. Clair

Denise St. Clair retired this year as director of the Family & Youth Law Center, or FYLaw, formerly the National Center on Adoption Law & Policy, after 15 years there. Located within Capital University Law School, FYLaw works with the child welfare, adoption, and juvenile justice systems to support positive outcomes for children, youth, and families. Over the years, PCSAO has worked with Denise and FYLaw on a number of policy initiatives, including the Adoption and Safe Families Act and other permanency efforts. This year, Denise and her staff have been stalwart public policy advocates, working with PCSAO to offer legal insight on bills before the Ohio General Assembly. Denise has been a fixture at this conference for many years and has offered her and her agency’s services to county agencies on issues ranging from rule review comments and permanency roundtables, to intimate partner violence training and National Adoption Month.

Under Denise’s leadership, FYLaw rebranded in line with its broadened scope of work. Most notably, FYLaw has taken its services to the next level, launching the Foster Youth Advocacy Center. The center provides civil legal services to young adults transitioning out of the child protection system, and with a new grant secured by Denise before her retirement, the center’s services are expanding to families at risk of system involvement.

Denise is also a caregiver for her teenage grandson, who no doubt benefits from her wisdom and compassion. Because of her extraordinary contributions to child protection this year and throughout her career, PCSAO is pleased to recognize Denise St. Clair as a private agency champion for child protection, and to present her with the 2016 Crystal Ward Allen Child Advocate of the Year award.