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2020 PCSAO Awards

Every year, PCSAO presents a variety of awards.

Because of the limitations of a virtual conference, we focused this year’s awards on professional agency staff, families, and young people. Nominations were made by children services agency staff, selections made, and awards presented prior to the conference. Each of the morning plenary sessions featured a summary of the awards; thank you to Kimberly Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, for announcing the agency professionals awards, and to LeeAnne Cornyn, director of the Governor’s Office of Children’s Initiatives, for announcing the family and youth awards. Below you will find more information about each of these amazing awardees. Congratulations to all of our award winners!

Rising Up and Moving On

PCSAO’s Rising Up and Moving On awards recognize older youth and young adults who, despite their past trauma and time in foster care, have demonstrated resilience and success in life and education.

Cathryn, Lucas County

Catie

Catie is a recent graduate of Cornell University with a degree in applied economics and management, but her path to the Ivy League was not a typical one. Catie spent time in treatment foster care when she was 15 and again when she was 17. The staff at Lucas County Children Services (LCCS), who saw Catie’s potential, had a hand in her success. Catie graduated from high school, emancipated from foster care in 2013 and enrolled at the University of Toledo, but she dropped out as she still battled old traumas from her time in foster care.

Eventually, Catie reached a low point and decided she wanted to change her life. She was homeless at the time but was determined to finish college. She started classes again in North Carolina and then returned to Toledo, where she continued her studies at Owens Community College. She graduated with honors in 2018 with an associate’s degree in business. From there, she was offered full scholarships at Wayne State University, The Ohio State University and Cornell University. She chose the Ivy League.

Catie’s coursework at Cornell was tough, but she also had to work to support herself. LCCS was able to help her financially so that she could work part-time rather than full-time. This past spring, she faced another challenge when she became sick with a COVID-like illness that kept her from working or going to class. LCCS stepped up again. Catie arranged for extensions on her classwork and would have walked across the stage in May, had the graduation ceremony not been canceled. She is back in Toledo now, searching for work and dedicated to helping youth.

Lauren, Stark County

Lauren

Lauren has overcome great odds to become a constructive member of the community with a promising future ahead of her. She endured a long history of trauma but never gave up on herself or the belief that she could live a good life. She graduated from Claymont High School, where she earned A’s and B’s. She was selected as her school’s student of the month and was also honored as a member of the YWCA Teen Hall of Fame of 2020. She has worked part-time at a nursing home, getting her STNA certificate, and at a local pizza restaurant. She participates in a Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, mentoring younger students from a nearby school. She is an active member of her church, participating in youth group, Bible study classes, and a summer camp program that focused on providing food and resources for local community members.

Lauren looks forward to starting college at Walsh University in the fall and wants to become a pediatrician. Her experience at the nursing home led to her interest in the medical field. She has a bright future ahead of her.

Ciaira, Franklin County

Ciaira

Ciaira is living on her own while attending Ohio University Zanesville, working two jobs and remaining close with her foster family. This is exceptional, considering the challenges that she had to overcome to achieve her goals. After entering foster care at a young age, Ciaira was adopted. Unfortunately, her adoption was disrupted, and she returned to foster care. Eventually, she found a loving home with foster parents, whom she calls “Mom” and “Dad.”

With help from her Franklin County Children Services worker, Ciaira entered the Buckeye Ranch’s My Place program, where she lived in an apartment. While there, she set and achieved goals including maintaining employment and going to school online. According to the program’s director, she was focused and never allowed anything to distract her, setting an example for everyone there. When she turned 21, Ciaira got her own apartment, thanks to the Family Unification Program Housing Voucher program. She loves to come home to her dogs, Marley and Murray. By saving her money, she was also able to buy a car. She works as a food delivery driver and has positions at two distribution centers.

Ciaira is driven, resilient and determined to be successful. Ciaira is close to receiving a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She hopes to enter the Columbus Police Academy and eventually become a private detective.

Mark, Franklin County

Mark

Mark overcame difficult circumstances to graduate last year with a 4.1 GPA and looks forward to a promising future. After missing three full academic years of school, Mark entered foster care at age 11. By the time he entered foster care, he was angry, distrustful and did not know how to express his feelings. But his foster mom did not give up on him. She encouraged Mark to complete counseling, and little by little, things began to change for Mark. His grades improved, and he started to make friends. He was focused and committed to changing his life trajectory. He worked hard and made up the missed school years. Mark also found the time to play on the football team and was a member of the wrestling team during high school.

In addition to earning good grades, Mark has built a thriving small business custom decorating sneakers. His work has been highlighted at sneaker conventions across the state. A pair of his shoes was featured at the inaugural Sneaker Ball in 2019. He also works with a local construction company, where he’s learned to install drywall, do plumbing and electrical work, and more.

Mark is very close to his foster mother, whom he refers to as “Nana,” and credits her support with helping him stay on track. Mark has also developed a strong relationship with his Simba Program mentor, Fred Lockhart, who is inspired by the youth and has seen him grow since they were matched. His plans include attending vocational school and possibly owning his own business.

Families of the Year

PCSAO’s Family of the Year awards recognize families who are making a difference in the lives of children involved in the child protection system. They may be foster or adoptive families, kinship caregivers, or primary or biological families who have dedicated their lives, opened their homes, and overcome challenges to ensure safety and permanence for children.

Julie and Brant Miller, Champaign County

Millers

Julie and Brant Miller have been unwavering in their commitment to children in need. They were approached years ago to see if they would provide temporary care for children they knew through church. The Millers said yes. Unknowingly, this would be the indirect start of their adoption journey.

Those children returned home, but when their mother had a family friend who needed care for a child, she immediately suggested the Millers. They said yes again. They took in a young girl who had a brother a significant distance away in a residential facility and three other siblings living with a grandmother. The Millers made sure to include her brother, talking by phone and driving hours across the state for visits. They had her sisters come to their home for sleepovers and to give the grandmother a much-needed break. When the children’s grandmother died suddenly and the sisters needed a placement, the Millers, who were now licensed as a foster home, said yes again.

Not strangers to advocacy, they began to advocate for the girls’ needs, traveling to Washington, DC, to talk with legislators about what children’s hospitals need for kids. When one of the youths in the home was preparing to reach the magical age of teen driving, the Millers encountered agency rules that mandated they put the foster youth on their insurance for the youth to be allowed to drive. The Millers felt strongly that she deserved to drive based on her school attendance, employment, good grades, and demonstrated responsibility. They said yes, again, without hesitation.

The Millers moved forward to legalize what they were already feeling within their family. One “yes” after another, the Millers expanded their family, demonstrating that there is always room in their hearts for one more.

Kay and Matt Johnson, Union County

Johnsons

Kay and Matt Johnson became licensed foster parents with Union County Job and Family Services in 1980. In their 40 years as foster parents, Matt and Kay have worked with more than 440 youth. They have even adopted three children over that time. Since their last adoption, Matt and Kay have focused on providing a loving and supportive home for kids during their family’s time of need.

While Matt continues to work full time and help when and where he can when not at work, Kay is now retired and focuses all her time and energy on the children in their home. Kay has stated on numerous occasions how much she loves the “busyness” of a full house.

Matt and Kay spend time with each child in their home to make them feel special. Children have shared that Kay plans numerous outings to parks, pools, water parks and shopping. When welcoming a new placement, Kay explains she is aware of some things that happened in the child’s past but at her home, “Things are like a book – past chapters have already been written and read.” They start a new page and a new chapter together. If a rule is broken in the home, she and Matt would address it, turn the page and start another chapter.

The Johnsons are respectful of biological ties, and they work to build relationships with biological families. These relationships extend long after children have left their home. Over the years, Kay and Matt have also helped lead a variety of foster parent events including picnics, gatherings, and coffee get-togethers for foster parents to support one another.

Leigha and Thomas Perkins, Franklin County

Perkinses

In March 2019, Franklin County Children Services received a neglect report about three children. When Leigha and Thomas Perkins learned that their niece and nephews could not remain with their parents, they were happy to welcome them into their home. They provided a safe and stable environment for the children, making sure they felt secure. A short time later their mother gave birth to a baby girl who tested positive for substances. Eventually they took custody of the baby, as she was removed from her father’s home by the police.

Leigha and Thomas Perkins faced challenges making space for the children in their three-bedroom home. Since both were working, they had the added expense of childcare for two of the children, which they had to pay out of their own pockets. Kayleigh, Jamie, Brayden and Hayden are doing very well in the Perkinses’ home despite the challenges. They are engaged in after-school activities such as softball and baseball. They are happy being in the home of their aunt and uncle and have expressed their desire to remain with them. Leigha and Thomas have filed for permanent custody of the four children in hopes of continuing to provide them a safe and loving home.

Outstanding Agency Staff

PCSAO’s staff awards recognize a caseworker, a supervisor and a support staff at a public children services agency who go beyond expectations and achieve extraordinary outcomes for children and families through their work in the agency and in the community.

Outstanding Caseworker of the Year: Beatrice Flett, Summit County Children Services

Bea Flett

Beatrice Flett (Bea) has 16 years of experience in child protection. She was nominated for Child Protection Worker of the Year for her unwavering commitment to family search and engagement. She was key to implementing the Summit County Permanency Collaborative. From there she went on to develop training for her colleagues that included real-world examples. “You have to be able to find strength in every family,” she says.

She also wrote training curriculum for the Institute for Human Services that is now used by caseworkers around the state. She eventually transitioned into a position as the 30 Days to Family caseworker with Summit County. Not only has she stood out in her commitment to developing training for her colleagues, she has also developed and maintained strong relationships with the families she guides in finding solutions that lead to permanency. She was honored with the Goodwill Employee of Distinction Award last fall.

Outstanding Supervisor of the Year: Kelly Pape, Ottawa County Job and Family Services

Kelly Pape

Kelly Pape has worked in child protective services since 2004, when she began her career as the Wrap-Around Coordinator in Ottawa County. She returned to school to get her degree in human services so she could continue working with families in protective services. She worked as a caseworker in Ottawa and Wood counties until 2015, when she became a supervisor in Ottawa County. As a supervisor, she has been involved in innovative programs such as Ohio START and ShadowBox. She has strong ties to the community through organizations such as Bike Lady and Project Noel. She has been involved in advocacy by scheduling ride-alongs for public officials.

Kelly is also highly regarded by the courts for “her ability to work tirelessly to build positive relationships and trust with families.” She breaks down barriers and uses innovative approaches and unique solutions to solve problems for the families she works with.

Outstanding Support Staff of the Year: Kourtney Hill, Stark County Job and Family Services

Kourtney Hill

Kourtney Hill has been with Stark County Job and Family Services for 10 years. She currently works as a unit support worker, supporting the adoption, placement, and independent living staff of nearly 30 people. Kourtney is knowledgeable about adoption rules, regulations, and timeframes as well as the finances for the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program, the independent living program, Post Adoption Special Services Subsidy and Multi-System Youth funding. She processes the financials for these programs daily.

Beyond the nuts and bolts of her job, Kourtney gets to know families and makes events special for kids. She organizes the annual Heart Gala as well as adoption photo shoots. She assists with a recruitment Facebook page and has redesigned the foster parent newsletter. Kourtney is the go-to person for so many things at Stark County JFS, from graphic design to technical assistance to event planning.