Advocating for safe children, stable families, and supportive communities
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Friday conference awards: Staff, advocates, training

To close out the conference today, PCSAO presented its final awards for 2016.

2016 Crystal Ward Allen Child Advocates of the Year

Jennifer Justice (Public Agency Champion)

Justice

Jennifer Justice needs no introduction. It is possible that in PCSAO’s 35 years of advocacy and partnership with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, no other state child welfare director has made such a positive impact or has been so willing to partner with county agencies than Jennifer.

Jennifer’s five-year tenure as deputy director for the Office of Families and Children and her three years before that with the department have been marked by significant change in our child protection system. After moving here from Florida, Jennifer had the dubious privilege of rolling out SACWIS in not one but two states. Her focus on family engagement, using data to inform decision-making, and promoting best practice, particularly around permanency, left no doubt that Jennifer would always place better outcomes for children and families ahead of politics. Jennifer’s style is also marked by her unflagging willingness to make herself available – for meetings with agencies, with youth, with PCSAO. Even when she didn’t agree with us, we always felt that we were being heard. And those values of customer service, responsiveness and consistency were infused throughout her office and staff thanks to the Partners for Ohio’s Family process she championed.

In the last year, Jennifer has closed out the three-decades-old consent decree under Roe v. Staples and wrapped up Ohio’s federal MEPA monitoring. On those two triumphs alone she could step down with honors! But she has also championed a predictive analytics process to combat infant fatalities and put us on the best possible track for the upcoming Child and Family Services Review. We wish Jennifer the best as she moves to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption to promote one of her other great legacies: the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids child-focused adoption recruitment partnership. Her leadership and her personable nature will be sorely missed. For all of these reasons, PCSAO is pleased to recognize Jennifer Justice as a champion for public child protection, and to present her with the 2016 Crystal Ward Allen Child Advocate of the Year award.

Allen County Children Services and Allen County Prosecutor’s Office (Public Entities)

Allen County

Every day our county children services agencies stand up for children. But this year one agency faced tremendous public pressure and even threats to staff safety for doing the right thing. When Allen County Children Services recommended that the county juvenile judge approve moving a child from a foster home across the border in a different county to live with kin out of state, the board and Executive Director Cynthia Scanland did not expect the resulting firestorm that would ultimately lead to the Supreme Court of Ohio. The foster family’s reaction was understandable, given that they had bonded with the child. But the community uproar and social media campaign led to vandalism and property damage, even threats, at the home of agency staff. And when a judge in a different county initiated adoption proceedings on behalf of the foster family, the agency recognized that a significant question of child welfare law had been raised that could have long-lasting statewide impact.

Fortunately, the agency had an ally in the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office. Prosecutor Juergen A. Waldick and Assistant Prosecutor Terri L. Kohlrieser took a stand, preparing solid arguments for the Supreme Court of Ohio against the potentially catastrophic practice of “judge shopping” and reinforcing the necessity of respecting jurisdiction in child custody cases. PCSAO submitted a friend-of-the-court brief. With additional support from assistant prosecutors Mariah M. Cunningham and Sarah N. Newland, the prosecutor successfully fended off the attempt by a judge in a different county to make custody decisions for the child. The Supreme Court made the right decision.
The relationship between child protective services and the prosecutor’s office can sometimes be a challenging one. Prosecutor Waldick, now in his second term, and Director Scanland put the best interest of children and respect for the law above all other priorities, and for that, PCSAO is taking the unusual step of recognizing two public entities rather than individuals. We are pleased to present Allen County Children Services and the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office with the 2016 Crystal Ward Allen Child Advocate of the Year award.

2016 Outstanding Agency Staff Awards

Outstanding Child Protection Worker of the Year: Carol Scherger, Seneca County JFS

Scherger

Availability. Compassion. Determination. Three words that define this caseworker’s approach to child protection. Having worked in both assessment and ongoing services in her agency since 2004, she excels at navigating the complexities of family engagement, foster care, and permanency. She has attended Friday night football games miles away to see kids on her caseload. She has ensured post-adoption stability by going on nightly walks with the adopted child. She has volunteered to take on colleagues’ cases when they are overloaded. Every eligible child on her caseload has graduated from high school, and she has been the one helping them establish a strong work ethic, find employment, and succeed. The agency isn’t large enough to have a specialized independent living unit. This caseworker IS the independent living unit.

This worker is particularly adept at identifying safety threats and responding in the child’s best interest. In one challenging case with seven children, she visited the family several times a week to ensure the children’s safety rather than removing them. In another case with five siblings in permanent custody, she refused to accept any adoptive placement that would not take all of the children. As the agency’s adoption coordinator since 2008, this worker has provided a permanent family for 34 children.

Before earning her degree and becoming a children services caseworker, she spent 15 years as a child support caseworker. She can say with credibility that child protection is by far the hardest job in the agency. According to the nomination, this worker was nominated by all of the agency employees, her husband and children, and her “work” children and families. The nomination states that if she were “given a golden ticket, never having to work another day in her life, she would continue to work to protect children, to promote their growth, to assure they are given every chance to be successful.” PCSAO is pleased to present the 2016 Outstanding Child Protection Worker of the Year to Carol Scherger of Seneca County Job and Family Services.

Outstanding Child Protection Supervisor of the Year: Anna Meyers, Williams County JFS

Meyers

We say it all the time: “Supervisors are the linchpin of our agencies.” All too often, however, the administrative demands of the job leave little time for the educational and supportive supervision that caseworkers need. Not so for this year’s supervisor of the year. She juggles all of her responsibilities, including a visible role in the community, to be, according to her director, the “heart and soul” of the entire agency. Her staff will tell you they’d “run through a wall of fire” for her. Formerly a capable caseworker who loves to be in the field, she was promoted to supervisor in 2014 and has worried ever since that her talents are wasted behind a desk. In fact, her impact on the caseworkers she supervises, on the agency as a whole, and on the community at large have only been magnified.

Under her leadership, cases involving the county drug court now maintain the same worker from assessment through to ongoing services, minimizing the change to families in crisis. Seeing how turnover in caseworker positions was affecting relationships with community stakeholders, the supervisor increased her outreach to local schools, providers, and other partners. Her strengths-based approach has taught caseworkers learning from her example never to judge families on their circumstances but rather to praise them on their accomplishments first, while holding them accountable to meeting case plans. She organizes the annual child abuse prevention breakfast for the county and coordinates an annual award for a community member who has gone above and beyond in support of children.

This supervisor is often heard saying she hopes through her career to impact the life of at least one person. If that is the standard, she could have retired years ago. PCSAO is pleased to present the 2016 Outstanding Child Protection Supervisor of the Year award to Anna Meyers of Williams County Job and Family Services.

Outstanding Child Protection Support Staff of the Year: Betty Driscol-Wilson, Summit County Children Services/Northeast Ohio Regional Training Center

Driscol-Wilson

With three decades of service to her agency and to the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program, this year’s support staff award winner has been part of significant transitions in child protection; indeed, she has become the institutional memory for training and development in the region. Because she works for the training program, staff from agencies across northeastern Ohio have likely met her as she greets them when they arrive at the training center. She welcomes them cheerfully, makes sure they get to the right room.

As the training program adopted the new E-Track system, she quickly became adept at entering data and made several recommendations to improve the efficiency of the system. In the past year, she has created Individual Development Plans for more than 400 caseworkers and supervisors across the region. While her administrative and clerical skills are superior, it’s her friendly personality that people remember. She plans birthday celebrations and potlucks within the department, improving camaraderie. She also serves on agency-wide committees, bringing her expertise to fatherhood and cultural diversity initiatives.

Our award winner also assumes small and unglamorous responsibilities such as sweeping snow and leaves from the entry to the training facility. In fact, it’s one of these “other duties as assigned” that stands out in all of letters written by her director and coworkers in support of her nomination: When a pest slithered into the building one day, she refused to wait for the maintenance crew to arrive to exterminate it. Resourceful as always, she took a broom and dust pan to shoo the garter snake back outside, sparing its life. PCSAO is pleased to present the 2016 Outstanding Child Protection Support Staff of the Year award to Betty Driscol-Wilson of Summit County Children Services and the Northeast Ohio Regional Training Center.

2016 Dan Schneider Leadership in Training Award

Lois Tyler

Tyler

Lois Tyler was one of the “founding mothers” of the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program back in the mid-1980s. She helped develop the first in-service caseworker core training in the United States since Ohio was the country’s leader in child protection training. Her primary contribution was to the development of the module on separation, placement and reunification.

Lois worked continuously with the state training coordinator, the Institute for Human Services, for almost 30 years from 1988 to her retirement in late 2015, and was instrumental in developing many foundational areas including helping recognize the importance of culture and diversity, transfer of learning, and adult learning theory in training. Lois was the driving force behind a tool manual for supervisors in the 1990s that is still asked about 20 years after initially produced. Lois helped the OCWTP understand and meet counselor and social work licensure requirements and keep the OCWTP policy manual updated for many years until her retirement.

Lois is known for her genuine and caring concern for everybody connected with the training program, including all of our extended families. She was behind hundreds of greeting cards circulating at the State Steering Committee for many years and always was interested in and supportive of all of her friends, which was everybody she ever met!
Lois was instrumental in trainer development. She nurtured many trainers through the development of their skills and helped them navigate the OCWTP system. I truly believe that her personal touch – i.e., caring for trainers, coaching them to help them develop their skills, problem-solving when needed – has been a huge factor in the tremendous trainer loyalty we enjoy as a program today. And, as she used to say, “Trainers are the backbone of the OCWTP… Without good trainers we have nothing.” The entire training system and the state of Ohio continue to reap the benefits of her work with trainers.

She continues to stay involved in our field in the Ohio Human Services Training Program and in teaching trainer skills to child welfare trainers.

(Presented by Dale Hotaling for the Regional Training Center Coordinators, OCWTP)