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2021 PCSAO Awards

The 2021 conference was a tremendous success, and PCSAO was pleased to present awards to outstanding youth, families, advocates, and agency staff.

Below you will find more information about each of these amazing awardees. Congratulations to all of our award winners!

In honor of the conference and Children Services Workforce Development Month, Gov. Mike DeWine recorded this message for children services caseworkers attending the conference.

Legislators of the Year

Sen. Dolan & Rep. Carfagna

These awards recognize outstanding leadership – and action – by legislators on issues impacting children and families served by the children services system.

Sen. Matt Dolan

Sen. Dolan has a strong commitment to public service and to Ohio’s children and families. He has been a steadfast presence and voice in Ohio’s General Assembly, initially during his time in the Ohio House and more recently throughout his first and now second terms in the Ohio Senate.

Think of these key transformation efforts that are in process for how Ohio serves children and families:

Sen. Dolan has championed all of these efforts, shepherding them through the budget process and making sure these efforts don’t get crowded out by other priorities.

Rep. Rick Carfagna

Rep. Rick Carfagna is in his third House term and is a member of the majority leadership team, serving as the assistant majority floor leader, which means he assists in developing and implementing the agenda for the party in the majority. Serving in a leadership role reflects the esteem and respect his House colleagues have for the representative.

Rep. Carfagna knows what children services is. He has taken the time to build a relationship with agencies in his district and learn about the work, not just the headlines, but deeper. That is leadership. It is the way that Rep. Carfagna goes about his work that sets him apart.

Child Advocate of the Year

Sarah Lynn Hayden

Sarah Hayden

For much of its history, the children services system looked at parents with an open case simply as clients, as those in need of services, not as those with resources to give. Moreover, we looked at parents with substance use disorders as threats to their children’s safety and even as morally weak. Fortunately, we know better now, and the winner of our Child Advocate of the Year award has been helping to change that narrative for years.

Sarah Lynn Hayden is a Family Peer Mentor at Warren County Children Services. For three years, she has worked with families in the Ohio START Program, but her involvement with children services goes back much further. Sarah is a former foster youth, an adoptee, a mother, a person in recovery coming up on 11 years of sobriety, a passionate advocate for children and families . . . and a survivor.

Sarah’s involvement with PCSAO isn’t new. We featured her last year in one of our Profiles of Hope and Courage, stories of frontline workers going the extra mile during the COVID-19 pandemic. Observing her leadership role in Warren County’s Ohio START program, PCSAO asked her early this year to join a panel of witnesses testifying before the General Assembly for increased state resources for the children services system.

Sarah not only joined the panel to testify March 4 before the House Finance Health and Human Services Subcommittee, but she returned a week later to testify before the full House Finance Committee, then returned to Columbus May 4 and once more on May 13 to testify before the Senate Health and Finance committees respectively. She was making the trip to the Statehouse so often that we worried we might aggravate our partners in Warren County, but Sarah deftly maintained her caseload and checked in with her families as required.

Each time she testified, Sarah did what no children services agency director or PCSAO staffer can do: She connected directly with policy makers as an ordinary Ohioan who overcame extraordinary circumstances to be a successful parent. She told her personal story in a way that evoked empathy, understanding, and a crystal-clear connection between the laws enacted by our legislators and the impact they have on constituents. In other words, she charmed them, moved them, and even brought tears to the eyes of a few. And it made a difference, translating into millions of dollars in new supports for children and families.

Sarah is a Certified State of Ohio Peer Support Specialist, a human services professional. She works alongside caseworkers to support families, walking hand in hand with them on their journey to sobriety, parenting and reunification. By telling her story – first to a few people, then to her coworkers and clients in Warren County, and eventually before elected officials in a statewide public hearing – Sarah has transformed into a seasoned advocate who is not only getting results locally, but making a difference statewide.

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.

Rena and Tony Craver, Foster Resource Family, Clermont County

Cravers

Tony and Rena Craver have been therapeutic foster parents in Clermont County since 2004 and have cared for26 children placed in their home: 24 foster placements, with 2 being pregnant teens adding babies to the mix. They have adopted 5 children and have legal custody of another child in their home. All children placed with the Cravers became part of their family, and that bond seems to remain even after they leave. Many previous foster children, now adults, continue to keep in contact with the Cravers and their family.

The Cravers do not shy away from working with youth who face great challenges while advocating for their best interests every step of the way. They take children to important appointments, school activities, and school meetings. They encourage and love every child who enters their home.

Rena enjoys providing pre-service training to new foster and adoptive families, and has been doing so for the past 2 years. She has become a valuable parent mentor sharing her wealth of knowledge with other families. Resource families like the Cravers are the everyday heroes who give children the gift of safety, security, stability, nurturing and normalcy during a traumatic time in their life.

Nicole and Rob Bennett, Birth Family, Trumbull County

Bennetts

Not only have Nicole and Rob Bennett addressed their struggle with substance use disorder and reunified with their children, but they have also gone on to make a difference in the lives of others struggling with it as well. Nicole and Rob were actively engaged in Family Dependency Treatment Court in Trumbull County, securing stable employment and housing. They also attended family therapy to heal their trauma together.

Nicole and Rob worked hard to reunify their own family, and they also have become active members of the recovery community and dedicated themselves to helping others. Rob has gone on to become a chemical dependency counselor. He and Nicole have taken meetings to people that could not get to one, led meetings, and chaired meetings. They are currently working with community representatives to develop funding and find housing for sober living options for families and single parents with their children. Rob and Nicole believe that there are not nearly enough sober houses in Trumbull County that will take an entire family. Rob and Nicole have also offered to serve as parent mentors for Family Dependency Treatment Court. We are excited to see where this journey takes them.

Norm and Christine Miller, Kin Caregivers, Geauga County

Millers

Norm and Christine Miller became kinship caregivers to Oliver, a of Geauga County child who experienced great trauma. Oliver was welcomed into the Millers’ home as though he had always been a member of the family. Oliver made remarkable changes over the 17 months he resided with Norm and Christine because of the stability and support they gave him.

The Millers taught Oliver the art of bee keeping, gardening, and taking care of chickens. They helped him increase his muscle tone by keeping him active with hiking, camping, and bike riding. Oliver looked forward to homemade pizza on Friday nights and learned how to make cinnamon rolls. They took him to church and youth group and taught him how to appropriately regulate himself to make friends.

The Millers were team players and strong advocates for Oliver meeting his needs and keeping in close contact with his teacher and other relevant professionals. The Millers were also an integral part of the process in identifying an adoptive family and transitioning Oliver to their care. Since his adoption, the Millers continue to have regular contact with Oliver, and now serve as grandparents to him.

Lindsay McIntosh & Family, Birth Family, Hamilton County

McIntosh

Lindsay McIntosh’s son, Chance, is perfectly named – his birth presented her the chance to get sober and to start over mothering a new baby. She took a chance on herself and promised herself she could do it. Two years in, she remains sober and has put together a life for herself and her young son that is something she can be proud of.

Before Chance was born, Lindsay fully committed to her recovery. Lindsay finished the Hamilton County START program a year ago and has remained committed to her sobriety and to doing what is best for her son Chance. She attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings regularly. Lindsay encourages others in recovery but sets firm boundaries to protect her own sobriety and her family. Lindsay has also created a strong relationship with The Pregnancy Center, and community agencies rely on her as someone who can support other mothers in their early days of parenting. She stays in regular contact with her caseworker, sending updates about their successes as well as cute mom-and-son photos. Through her example and her work supporting others, Lindsay serves as an example that recovery is possible.

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.

Hannah, Stark County

Paula, Union County

Tyleq, Summit County

Mandione, Franklin County

Mandione has overcome difficult circumstances, having immigrated to the U.S. from Africa and, together with his sister, being separated from their mother. Mandione is committed to being a positive role model for his sister. He is headed to the University of Toledo with plans to become a licensed therapist/counselor to help others heal from trauma. In recognition of his selfless determination, Mandione has been named as the recipient of both the 2021 CMA Scholarship and the Franklin County Children Services Rising Up and Moving On Award.

Mandione maintained a busy schedule as an athlete participating on his school’s football, wrestling, and track teams. He is a skillful advocate for himself and maintains boundaries for his busy schedule, making sure he can give his best effort to everything he does. Mandione’s foster family shares that he has a promising future ahead and that “he will always have a place to call home.”

Gabriella, Belmont County

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: Rae Damron, Franklin County Children Services

Rae Damron

Rae Damron has been in the field four years, but she had already established herself as someone who consistently goes above and beyond for families. She is committed to permanency for youth and reunification for families and dedicated to preserving family connections. She forms strong connections with the families on her caseload. When the birth mother on one of her cases died, she came in on her day off to give the children the news personally and ensure they had extra support. She not only made arrangements with the birth and foster families for the children to attend their mother’s funeral, she accompanied them, even bringing flowers for them to place on their mother’s casket.

Rae is committed to preserving family connections and works tirelessly to pursue kinship placement possibilities. When foster parents are unavailable, she has driven siblings long distances to a scheduled visit and taken them home, returning at 4 a.m. Her work crosses international borders…she recently located a mother in Haiti and arranged for her to participate in her daughter’s court dates remotely.

Beyond her job responsibilities at Franklin County Children Services, Rae finds time to support her colleagues, especially when difficult situations arise. She has been known to drop what she is doing to drive out of state to assist a colleague. She was recently accepted into Case Western Reserve University’s Mandel School of Applied Sciences with advanced standing. We feel confident we will hear more from this award winner.

Outstanding Supervisor of the Year: Kari Schaad, Morgan County Job and Family Services

Kari Schaad

Kari Schaad has a variety of experience in the child protection field, having served as a social worker and worked in foster care and adoption. During that time, she did not have a supervisor to guide and mentor her; she was just handed the rules and told to learn them. Ten years later when she became a supervisor at Morgan County Job and Family Services, she again did not have anyone to guide or mentor her, but she set out to do that for others. She is on call 24/7 along with her social workers. She responds to calls along with them in the middle of the night, supervising her young team in making critical safety decisions. She has a constant stream of people in her office seeking guidance. In addition to being a program supervisor, she is also an administrative supervisor, handling IV-E eligibility, learning new rules and legislation, and playing a key part in getting two levies approved by the voters.

Kari’s contribution goes far beyond her colleagues, however. She has made a real difference in the lives of children. Recently a young woman returned to the agency to visit her. The woman, who is living independently and pursing two college degrees, wanted to convey what a difference this supervisor had made in her life. While she may have been difficult as an adolescent, looking back, she really did absorb what the supervisor told her. It made all the difference to this young woman that her sibling group was kept together, and she knew the effort it took for the supervisor to accomplish this.

Another family recently came to visit Kari with their six-year-old adopted daughter. Back when she was a caseworker, Kari was responsible for making sure the adoption went through the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children process. She was a huge part of the girl’s life the first two years, even holding a first birthday party for her at the agency. She always made the girl feel like a typical child, and the girl wanted to come back and see her when they were in Ohio. Her support of her staff and her dedication to families speak volumes.

Outstanding Support Staff of the Year: Johnny Garza, Summit County Children Services

Johnny Garza

Johnny Garza is dedicated to family, both his own family and the families he serves through his work. In his four years with the agency, he has had a positive impact on the work environment in many ways. He takes the initiative and goes above and beyond to create a clean, safe environment for casework staff to do their work and for families to succeed. He gives his best and sets a great example, with makes others want to do the same. His positive attitude is contagious. He is a friend to all, and always has a kind word and a happy greeting.

Johnny keeps the area clean, communicates effectively and maintains a safe space for all. One of his favorite tasks is caring for the agency vehicles because he understands the importance of having safe and reliable vehicles for workers to transport kids to visits with their parents and work toward reunifying their family, because family is everything. He also loved painting the Family Interaction Center because he knew he was creating a beautiful, clean and uplifting space in which families could maintain their bonds.

Johnny is a proud father himself and enjoys spending time with his spouse and their three children. They like camping, sports and the arts. His connection to his own family enables him to make the connection between his maintenance work and the success of casework staff and they serve.

Dan Schneider Award for Leadership in Training

As the first full-time director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio (PCSAO) in 1987, Dan Schneider (1951-2003) 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.

Ruby Johnston

Ruby Johnston

This year’s winner, Ruby Johnston, has dedicated her life to teaching and training others. Her impact on child welfare training has not only been felt here in Ohio but nationally and globally. Ruby has been a trainer for the OCWTP for over 20 years, and she has developed dozens of trainings for the program during that time.

Ruby is a leader in supervisor/manager trainings with a focus on leadership development and performance appraisal. OCWTP utilized her expertise to support the development and revision of the Supervisor Core Series Modules.

Ruby has a passion for coaching and mentoring, and has provided many, many coaching hours to supervisors all over our state. When there is ever a concern about leadership qualities, Ruby is the first person to come to mind for coaching. She has designed mentorship programs for county leadership to create sustainability around coaching and succession planning.

Ruby has trained adoption workers, foster parents, and adoptive parents. Her work with international adoptions in eastern European countries is extensive. She has trained and consulted in several countries, helping them develop their own child welfare systems.

Ruby Johnston has not only dedicated her life’s work to training, but she’s literally put her life on the line, traveling to dangerous countries, flying over 2 million miles, in order to train others and help build and sustain child welfare programs in countries where children are sometimes seen as commodities. She has provided an outstanding example of what commitment to child protection can look like on many fronts.

The Ohio Child Welfare Training Program is so thankful that she has shared that commitment with Ohio’s caseworkers, supervisors and caregivers.