2018 PCSAO Awards
Crystal Ward Allen Child Advocate of the Year
The Ohio State University College of Social Work
When one thinks about advocating for young children, universities aren’t usually first to come to mind. However, The Ohio State University College of Social Work has been a true partner with PCSAO this past year in effecting positive change for Ohio’s children and families.
As the lead evaluators for the Ohio START Pilot Program, the College of Social Work has donated countless hours of staff time to supporting the implementation of Ohio START, building a database to collect project data, interviewing START staff and START families and attending countless meeting and initiatives. In addition to their work on START, the College of Social Work is leading a regional partnership grant, EPIC, with Fairfield and Pickaway counties in which they are implementing and evaluating interventions with families affected by SUD and child maltreatment. Under the supervision of Dr. Bridget Freisthler, two of the department’s MSW students developed an Opioid Overdose Family Support Toolkit to help families recognize the signs of trauma in children and how to help them. The College of Social Work’s commitment to child welfare includes researching best practices and approaches to addressing the state’s opioid epidemic and its impact on children and families, developing useful toolkits and trainings, and strengthening practices in county children services agencies. This is all in addition to their “regular” jobs of educating the next generation of social workers!
We strongly believe that collaborating and connecting essential components in child welfare are important for empowering our child protection workers and improving outcomes for children and families. The OSU College of Social Work has been and will continue to be a critical piece of the child protection puzzle! PCSAO is pleased to recognize The Ohio State University College of Social Work with an award named for our long-serving former executive director, the 2018 Crystal Ward Allen Child Advocate of the Year Award.
Gayle Channing Tenenbaum Legislators of the Year
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 children services system.
The Honorable Janine Boyd
Our first honoree is Rep. Janine Boyd. Rep. Boyd is currently serving her second term in the House of Representatives, representing the 9th District, which is Cleveland Heights. She is a lifelong resident of the district – her deep ties to her community are a key part to how and why she serves so effectively.
Given her passion and effectiveness in that role, it was no surprise to many of us when she decided to run for the house. And, PCSAO is honoring Rep. Boyd for continuing her advocacy in her role as a representative.
Children services work – especially the front-line work that so many do as caseworkers and supervisors – is tough. We serve our state’s most vulnerable kids and families, there is not always a “happy ending” for cases, and our work is questioned. We often say that for most of the general public who have no experience with children services, the impression of our work is typically either “children services overstepped your bounds and did too much” or, “children services didn’t do enough.” And for the most part, it’s those folks who pick up the phone to complain to their legislator.
Fortunately, Rep. Boyd is a legislator who does understand the work of children services, and helps her colleagues in the legislature understand the work better as well. In her relatively short time in the General Assembly, Rep. Boyd has established herself as a leader and resource on key issues such as:
- Multi-system youth: As a member of the Joint Legislative Committee for Multi-System Youth, Rep. Boyd helped formulate an agenda to make sure that parents will no longer have to relinquish custody of their children in order to access services. We still have work to do on this – and appreciate that she remains committed.
- Supporting kinship caregivers: She cosponsored (along with our next awardee) H.B. 126 to establish a statewide kinship navigator program, which passed the House with a $5 million appropriation this past June.
- Raising awareness about adoption and the importance of maintaining sibling relationships and bonds when children enter custody and/or are adopted: The representative has introduced several bills on these topics.
In addition, Rep. Boyd serves on several key committees, including Aging and Long-Term Care, State and Local Government, Ways and Means, and is the ranking member on the Community and Family Advancement Committee. Rep. Boyd also serves as Treasurer of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus.
A few common themes run through all of her work and roles:
- Passion: Rep. Boyd brings a “grounded passion” to her work. Grounded because she remains centered on priorities and values, and those drive her work. She is a fierce advocate for what she believes in, and we are fortunate that she believes in the work of children services.
- Persistence: Rep. Boyd knows that change doesn’t happen overnight and that if often takes numerous attempts to get something done. Early in her first term, she convened an interested party meeting on kinship caregiver issues – she listened and adjusted, listened and adjusted, and a little over three years later, H.B. 126 passed the House.
- Commitment: Rep. Boyd is absolutely committed to connecting policy to the “real world.” She seeks diverse voices and viewpoints – and especially the voices of those who will be impacted by any policy or legislation she is considering. That’s not always easy to do; listening takes time, listening creates expectations, and can lead you in a direction you did not expect. We appreciate that she approaches her work in this way.
We are so very grateful for the passion, persistence, and commitment that Rep. Janine Boyd embodies as a representative in the great state of Ohio. And most importantly, for never losing sight of what abused and neglected children and their families need. PCSAO is pleased to present a 2018 Gayle Channing Tenenbaum Legislator of the Year Award to Rep. Janine Boyd.
The Honorable Jeffrey Rezabek
The Honorable Jeff Rezabek was recently appointed to fill a vacancy on the Montgomery County Juvenile Court and is running for that judgeship this fall.
We are honoring Judge Rezabek today for his service as Rep. Rezabek, the role he had before being appointed as judge. Rep. Rezabek was elevated twice to serve the 43rd House District, which includes Preble County and part of Montgomery County. He is a long-time family law attorney with deep experience with the children services system, including serving as guardian ad litem.
PCSAO first met Rep. Rezabek when he attended a briefing on multi-system youth back in 2015. Rep. Rezabek was respected among his House colleagues as an expert and leader on children services and family issues – basically a “go-to guy.”
That is why we turned to Rep. Rezabek when we needed leadership to address – and fix – a serious issue regarding court jurisdiction as a result of a Supreme Court of Ohio decision in October 2016. Rep. Rezabek did not need any convincing to partner with PCSAO and The Ohio Judicial Conference to craft a legislative “fix.” He hosted numerous conversations and meetings, did his own thorough research, and crafted House Bill 283 that met our mutual needs. And, he then agreed to revise the bill when we all realized that we had missed a few things.
Rep. Rezabek then shepherded Substitute House Bill 283 through the House – it passed last December – and partway through the Senate before he became a judge. We are committed to finishing the work by the end of this General Assembly.
Throughout, Rep. Rezabek’s commitment and creativity never wavered. We could not have chosen a better champion on this issue. And, of course, we want to thank him for his leadership on kinship issues and H.B. 126 along with Rep. Boyd.
PCSAO is pleased to present Jeffrey Rezabek with a 2018 Gayle Channing Tenenbaum Legislator of the Year Award.
Rising Up and Moving On
Justin, Montgomery County
Tadareus, Montgomery County
Christina, Stark County
Shawn, Summit County
Meriel, Warren County
Families of the Year
Christina Oliver, Franklin County – Birth
Many parents have overcome addiction in order to create new lives for themselves and their families, but Christina Oliver overcame far more in order to reunify with her son, Anthony.
Following Anthony’s birth, Christina voluntarily entered treatment and visited regularly with her infant son so that they could bond. Then, after working so hard to regain custody, Christina was involved in a tragic car accident. She spent several days in the hospital, suffering from trauma to her brain and eye. To her credit, she avoided the old trap of addiction by refusing pain medication. Last October, she completed her case plan and is thriving once more with Anthony at her side. He is doing well in Head Start, and Christina is considering returning to school in order to help others.
Support from her service team at Franklin County Children Services combined with Christina’s will to persevere turned this into a success story. PCSAO is pleased to present Christina Oliver and son Anthony with a 2018 PCSAO Family of the Year award.
Tom & Ruth Ruhe, Clark County – Foster/Adoptive
The Ruhes have been licensed foster/adoptive parents with Clark County JFS since 1992. In the course of 26 years, they have cared for 157 foster children, raised three biological children (now 27, 25 and 21 years old) and adopted four foster children (currently 17, 16, 11 and 7 years old). In all that time, they never turned down an emergency placement and never asked that a child be removed from their home — they never, ever give up on kids.
Years ago they fostered three brothers with significant aggressive behaviors. During the 12 months the boys were in placement, they caused considerable damage to the Ruhe home, punching holes in walls, destroying furniture, and creating enough chaos that most families would have asked for them to be removed. Instead, Tom and Ruth worked with the boys, their mother, the caseworker, and community providers to reunify the family. They value family relationships, especially sibling relationships, and ensure that their adopted children maintain contact with brothers and sisters.
The Ruhes work hard to ensure that all of the children in their care receive the medical, educational, and emotional supports they need. They are calm under pressure, gladly take over case management activities from caseworkers, and consistently achieve amazing outcomes for kids.
PCSAO is pleased to present Tom and Ruth Ruhe with a 2018 PCSAO Family of the Year award.
Thomas & Lori Hawkins, Stark County – Foster
When Thomas and Lori Hawkins relocated from Kentucky to Canton, Ohio, two years ago, they brought with them three biological children and a foster child. They also brought a desire not only to foster more children but to provide support to fellow foster parents.
Frequently the Hawkinses travel to Kentucky and back to meet with their foster daughter’s caseworkers and attend court hearings. Since their move, they also have earned their Ohio license and took placement of two young brothers. One boy’s aggressive behavior means that Lori often leaves work to pick him up from school. The Hawkinses have become trauma informed and familiarized themselves with a range of treatment services.
But their contributions didn’t stop there. Valuing the support they receive from other foster families, they worked with Stark County JFS to establish a new foster parent support group called NEST: Network, Engage, Support and Train. NEST provides foster families the opportunity to share their collective experiences and explore the best ways to provide safe and loving homes for the children they foster. Group meetings offer a comfortable, confidential environment to seek advice about understanding behaviors, learning about laws and regulations, maneuvering the system, working with birth parents, advocating in schools, protecting marriages, and maintaining self-care. NEST members even engage prospective foster/adoptive parents, cook meals for families with new placements, arrange clothing exchanges, and provide respite. Attendees at monthly NEST meetings, which average 25 people and include babysitting, even qualifies for training credit.
One NEST member wrote in the Hawkinses’ nomination, “When I look at Tom and Lori’s partnership, I see a determined couple who put children first, fight to find the right resources for each child in their home, and constantly put both their biological and foster children before themselves.”
PCSAO is pleased to present Thomas and Lori Hawkins with a 2018 PCSAO Family of the Year award.
Journalist of the Year
Mark Curnutte, The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Cincinnati Enquirer series, “Seven Days of Heroin,” which ran one year ago, earned Mark Curnutte and his colleagues a Pulitzer Prize. Mark’s follow-up piece, I want a family, has now earned him the equally prestigious PCSAO award for journalism.
Mark first encountered the eight-year-old girl featured in the story when he was writing “Seven Days of Heroin.” She had lost her father to a heroin overdose, and her mother also was an addict. The girl had been placed in psychiatric care because of the effects of trauma. Mark wrote respectfully about the child, maintaining her confidentiality while telling the story of how heroin impacts Ohio communities. But he didn’t stop there. He followed up in June to help readers understand her journey through the child protection system. He found her much happier the second time around, eagerly awaiting adoption. Mark wrote delicately about the subject, especially about the difference her Hamilton County JFS caseworker was making in her life.
On the same day the story ran, a Hamilton County magistrate severed parental rights and placed the girl on the path to the adoption she desperately wants. The story demonstrated how a children services agency and a reporter can work together to tell a story that needs to be told without breaking confidentiality or damaging the child. Indeed, Mark gained the trust of the girl, the worker, the foster parent, and the agency.
For 30 years, Mark Curnutte has been telling truthful, compelling stories about social justice, race relations, and the human condition. Mark’s journalism cuts deep on topics that move people. Born in Illinois, Mark graduated from Miami University here in Ohio and has published an award-winning book, A Promise in Haiti: A Reporter’s Notes on Families and Daily Lives, about his five trips to the impoverished country.
PCSAO is pleased to present Mark Curnutte with the 2018 PCSAO Journalist of the Year award.
Outstanding Agency Staff
David Zimmerman, Summit County Children Services, Child Protection Supervisor of the Year
Finding permanency for kids in agency custody requires many talents, from relationship building to creativity to finding strengths in even the most traumatized youth. But more than anything, it requires persistence. Our next award winner has demonstrated persistence for 29 years and now supervises a unit of seven workers dedicated to finding forever families.
His patience and listening skills allow him to make deep connections, whether it be with troubled youth and teens in crisis or with his own staff. He adopts innovative practices, breaking down barriers impeding effective service delivery. When a worker has a late-night home visit or a stressful meeting, he offers to accompany the worker or calls to check up afterwards. He recognizes his staff with spontaneous pizza lunches, and works holidays to ensure that children visit with siblings. His persistence recently paid off when a 16-year-old girl who had been in foster care for several years and suffered from mental health challenges finally achieved adoption, and when another was reunified with her birth mother, who had worked hard to turn her life around after parental rights had been terminated. It was this supervisor’s dedication to achieving permanency and his encouragement of his staff that succeeded in the face of challenges that would have forced others to give up.
It is not uncommon for this supervisor to receive calls from youth long after they have left the agency’s custody seeking his guidance as they navigate adulthood. They are proud to acknowledge him as a positive influence on their lives, and PCSAO is pleased to recognize David Zimmerman of Summit County Children Services as the 2018 Outstanding Child Protection Supervisor of the Year.
Elvin Cannon, Franklin County Children Services, Child Protection Caseworker of the Year
In a field where too many caseworkers don’t make it past their second year, our next award winner is marking 28 years serving young people throughout central Ohio and beyond. He started as an intake worker, but he discovered his passion working with transition-age youth.
He maintains strong rapport with community partners and meets youth wherever and whenever they need help – whether it’s close to home or across the country. The hundreds of youth on his caseload over the years have benefited from his time taking them to Friday night football games or college orientation. He has successfully transitioned youth to postsecondary education, Job Corps, the workforce, and the armed services. Not only does he work long hours helping the kids, but he mentors new workers in the agency as well.
His dedication to helping young people meet their goals and be prepared for emancipation has been recognized by peers and supervisors throughout his agency, including, most recently, with the Nancy Fitzgivens Award.
For these reasons, PCSAO is pleased to recognize Elvin Cannon of Franklin County Children Services as the 2018 Outstanding Child Protection Caseworker of the Year.
Pam Hinton-Groves, Richland County Children Services, Child Protection Support Staff of the Year
Technology. Coding. Database management. IT security. Most children services caseworkers will readily admit that these aren’t areas of specialty or even comfort for them. That’s why every agency should have someone on staff like our next award winner.
With more than 20 years of experience in the field, she is known as a “go to” expert on data and technology within her agency and beyond. While she approaches every problem like a scientist – collecting factual data, forming a hypothesis, testing solutions – she also has a knack for translating complex technical information into something that even the most tech-phobic caseworker can understand.
This staff person writes code to automate reports, provides both unit-specific and caseworker-specific data trends to make the agency more efficient, and manages all things technical, from agency-wide upgrades to individualized technical assistance when a caseworker gets locked out of her computer (not that that happens very often).
Her vision goes beyond SACWIS and ROM reports. She conceived a plan to develop a forensic interviewing center in the community hospital, coordinating all aspects of a $25,000 project that involved audio, video and recording equipment; hospital and law enforcement coordination with the agency; cabling and installation; and policies and procedures. The praise, commendations and compliments accompanying the nomination for this staff member are too long to list, but the agency director has this to say: “She sees things differently than the rest of us, and she is constantly coming up with new ideas for making things better or more efficient. Not one to be satisfied with the bare minimum, [she] is [always] learning and growing her skillset in order to provide the highest level of assistance possible.”
For these reasons and many more, PCSAO is pleased to recognize Pam Hinton-Groves of Richland County Children Services as the 2018 Outstanding Child Protection Support Staff of the Year.
Dan Schneider Leadership in Child Welfare Training
Christina Carter, Institute for Human Services
Each year, the regional training center coordinators select an outstanding individual to receive one of our most coveted awards, the Dan Schneider Award. As the first full-time director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio (PCSAO) in 1987, 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. Begun in 2003, the Dan Schneider 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 toward best-practice ideals. This year the Dan Schneider Award is being given to Christina Carter, Distance Learning and Needs Assessment Specialist for the Institute for Human Services, the State Training Coordinator for the OCWTP.
Christina, who has a degree in Instructional Design and Performance Technology, has been with the Institute for Human Services for over 20 years and has performed several roles during that time. In the early to mid-2000s, she helped lead the effort to move the OCWTP into the 21st Century via the establishment of an online Learning Management System. Christina and other colleagues from the OCWTP spent many hours researching other LMSs including trips to other parts of the country to view demonstrations. At that time, Christina convened the OCWTP Technology Workgroup and was instrumental in assisting of the selection of TEDS as the new LMS Developer with their product that became known as “E-Track”. In the late 2000s, Christina was extremely involved in the adapting of the “off the shelf” LMS to fit the needs of caseworkers, supervisors, and foster parents who were to become end users for this system.
Another role that Christina has filled is in the area of Needs Assessment and again, helped to bring Needs Assessment into the 21st century, from the lengthy paper and pencil Needs Assessment (ITNA) to the On-Line Needs Assessment Collection Tool via Survey Gizmo. She assisted in the building of these Survey Gizmo platforms to capture data for needs of caseworkers, supervisors, and foster parents. It is in part because of Christina’s work that we have ways to collect and examine training needs data from our constituent populations. Christina has been an exemplary leader of our Needs Assessment work team, she has always been open to group members suggestions, willing to try new tasks that are asked of her, and has even offered her home as a meeting space when needed.
Christina has also played a major role in the increase in of Distance Learning trainings, again, another way she has helped to bring this program into the 21st Century, including the modules “Transition to Supervision: Crossing the Divide” and “ITNA/IDP Context Module for Supervisors (and Workers).” She is always open to trying out new technologies, including a new Interactive On-line OCWTP Orientation Module for new regional training center and IHS staff.
Finally, Christina has taken the lead on our program’s deeper dive into new Learning Methods which was a major focus of the 2017 OCWTP Retreat. These methods, including the concepts of Spaced Learning, were discussed at our retreat with Christina sending follow up e-mails as a way to reinforce learning. Some of these methods are being included in the trainings we provide; for example, flash cards are being e-mailed out to trainees of some of our CAPMIS trainings post-training to help reinforce learning that will lead to better CAPMIS skills. Christina also shared some of these techniques with trainers during an on-line training so they can hopefully add these to their own trainings.
Christina’s passion for learning is truly evident, she loves to share learning tips and resources with all of her fellow colleagues and she is the OCWTP expert on brain games to keep your mind fresh and alert. We could say much more about Christina, including the fact that she could give Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray a run for their money with her baking talents but I will just sum this up with a quote from Anthony D’Angelo: “Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.” And our program has grown so much as a result of the dedication and commitment of Christina Carter.