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Children services conference celebrates champions, looks to future

Two months after the Governor and General Assembly invested a historic $220 million of Ohio’s biennial budget into a long-neglected children services system, advocates celebrated new resources, best practices and state-county partnerships at the 34th annual conference of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, “Champions for Children and Families.”

Cincinnati-based steakhouse restaurateur and philanthropist Jeff Ruby kicked off the opening plenary session Wednesday. The luncheon also featured a welcoming video from Gov. Mike DeWine (above) along with awards to PCSAO’s Child Advocate of the Year, Jerica Estle-Grooms, a former foster youth from Adams County, and to five other young people who overcame childhood abuse and neglect, Rising Up and Moving On to become successful young adults with bright futures. “These foster youth and former foster youth prove that resilience and determination can overcome histories of trauma,” said Angela Sausser, PCSAO’s executive director. “They offer messages of hope and gratitude to our frontline caseworkers.”

Thursday’s keynote, Tina Willauer of Children and Family Futures, touted federal and state initiatives offering hope to stabilize the children services system. Speaker Larry Householder and Rep. Mark Romanchuk received PCSAO’s Legislator of the Year awards for their leadership in enhancing the Governor’s budget investment. “The Speaker doubled the Governor’s proposed budget increase specifically directed to county agencies, and Rep. Romanchuk helped to shepherd the budget through the House Finance Committee,” Sausser said. “They rode along with caseworkers to see firsthand the challenges that families face, and heard testimony from parents forced to relinquish custody of children because of their mental illness, making them true champions for children and families.”

Family of the Year awards were also presented to foster and adoptive families who opened their homes to children and to birth and kinship caregivers who overcame hardships to keep their families together. Jennifer Brindisi of WFMJ Youngstown received PCSAO’s Outstanding Journalist of the Year award for her recurring segment covering issues related to child abuse, foster care and adoption.

Friday concluded with remarks from Kimberly Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. She announced collaborative efforts between the state and county agencies to stabilize the system and to improve outcomes for children and families. She also presented staff from three county agencies with Caseworker of the Year, Supervisor of the Year and Support Staff of the Year awards. Sally Fitch received the Dan Schneider Leadership in Child Welfare Training award for her years developing the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program.

Explore photos from the conference on Flickr.