FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 13, 2015
Contact: Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936 or (406) 461-3757
Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391
Montanans to be honored for efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect
Helena woman to be named 2015 Foster Parent of the Year
Awards ceremony is Tuesday, April 14 at 11 a.m.
Montanans dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect will be honored Tuesday, April 14 at the annual Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect Conference in Helena at the Red Lion Colonial Inn, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) has announced.
The awards ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. Those being recognized this year are from Helena, Great Falls, Billings, Missoula, Butte, Havre and Kalispell and include licensed foster parents, youth in foster care, child advocates, and DPHHS Child and Family Services Division staff.
“Many children in Montana are the victims of child abuse and neglect through no fault of their own,” DPHHS Director Richard Opper said. “The people we are honoring work tirelessly behind the scenes to help children and families through challenging times, and ensure they are safe from harm. These dedicated individuals invest countless hours to this difficult work. It’s an honor to recognize them.”
One particular individual is Helena’s Cheryl Robertson, who is this year’s Foster Parent of the Year award recipient. She remembers the first time she was contacted by Child and Family Services called with a request for her to care for two foster children. “It was on my birthday four years ago,” she said. “I was a little scared and nervous. My heart was beating fast. I wondered, oh my gosh, will I be able to do this?”
As it turns out, she was more than up to the challenge.
Since that time, Cheryl, along with her late husband, have cared for 35 children. Currently, she cares for three foster children, who she plans to adopt. “These children are absolutely thriving in her care due to her love, compassion, generosity, and warmth,” said Brent Lashinski of the DPHHS Child and Family Services Division (CFSD). “Her warmth, generosity, and good nature are exemplary.”
Robertson, who is also currently working on her Master’s degree, says becoming a foster parent is one of the best decisions she has made in her life. “The absolute best part of it all is when a family is able to get back together, or the kids are adopted into a home that loves them,” she said. “I would adopt every kid in the world, if I was able. That’s just how I am.”
On average, the DPHHS completes about 7,600 investigations of child abuse and neglect every year involving 11,000 children. Further, the number of children in foster care continues to climb. As of February 28, 2015 there were 2,417 Montana children in foster care, the highest number of kids in care over the past 15 years.
Additional CFSD award recipients are:
- Engaging Families in Positive Change, Pam Meyerson, Great Falls. This award goes to an individual who works with families to carry out the mission of CFSD in a manner that is positive and respectful of each family’s strengths.
Meyerson, a child protection specialist in the Great Falls CFSD office, has a reputation for commitment to excellence in her interactions with families. She works hard to help families address the problems in their lives, creatively utilizing available resources to ensure the family’s needs are met and that children are safe in the home.
- Youth Achievement of the Year, Cody McClory, Missoula and Charlie Heil, Helena. This award is given to a foster or adoptive youth(s) who exhibits a drive to be successful and makes positive changes in their life.
- has demonstrated drive as a teenager in the foster care system to be an outstanding person in the community and remains committed to his academics. Heil works part time while maintaining excellent grades, volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters and is applying for college.
- Above and Beyond Award, Mia Johnson, Missoula. This award goes to an individual or organization that performs above and beyond the call of duty, gives their time to support the unit, team, agency and /or community.
- goes beyond the call of duty to help children, parents, and stakeholders engage in successful and meaningful dialogue that enables children to ultimately be placed back with their parents.
- Creative Solutions, Intensive Service Unit Workers, Darcie Rupp, Great Falls; Lori Ketchum, Billings; Dawn Stuber-Daem, Butte; Mandi Maloughney, Butte; Kari Linton, Missoula, Christian Ternes-Rees, Missoula; Daryl Wilderson, Great Falls, Eden Roberts, Missoula. This award goes to an individual or team that utilizes creative problem-solving and resource allocation to better serve children and families.
This group works to support youth by embracing a creative approach, and an ‘anything is possible’ attitude.
Montana’s Children’s Trust Fund Award awards. The Children’s Trust Fund, administratively attached to DPHHS, provides financial support to local programs across the state to prevent child abuse and neglect and strengthen families. The Trust Fund board honors individuals who have gone above and beyond to help children and families.
- Strengthening Families Award, Sylvia Danforth, Executive Director of the Developmental Educational Assistance Program (DEAP), Miles City and Echo Jamieson, President of Forever Families, Billings.
Danforth, who has been at DEAP since 1984, is being honored for her work supporting children and families with disabilities.
Jamieson is being honored for her work strengthening foster and adoptive families.
- Pinwheels for Prevention Award, the late Mary Gallagher, past Children’s Trust Fund Board President. Gallagher, who served on the Trust Fund for over six years, had a long career as an attorney with the Office of Public Instruction. As part of the OPI Legal Division she was the Early Assistance Program Director, providing technical assistance to parents, school districts, and advocacy organizations, assisting in resolving disputes with parents of children with disabilities and school districts.
- Outstanding Corporate Citizen Award, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana (BCBSMT). BCBSMT is being honored in recognition and appreciation of outstanding support for their efforts to help raise awareness of child abuse and neglect prevention across Montana.
The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) organization refers to trained community volunteers appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in court. This year’s CASA award winners are:
- Judge of the Year, Hon. Ed McLean, District Court Judge, 4th Judicial District. Having presided over court in Missoula for 26 years, Judge McLean is the longest serving judge in Missoula County. Judge McLean was cited by his fellow judges, Deputy County Attorney, CASA Advocates and the Executive Director of CASA of Missoula as always being focused on the needs and issues of children who were victims of abuse and neglect.
- CASA Volunteer Advocate of the Year, Carol Rash, CASA Volunteer Advocate from the CASA of Yellowstone County program. Rash, a CASA Volunteer Advocate from the CASA of Yellowstone County program, has been selected as the CASA Volunteer Advocate of the Year. Rash began her CASA career in May 2009 and since that time has served 12 children as a CASA Advocate and 11 children as a Peer Coordinator.
- CASA Program Director of the Year, Mark Douglass, Program Director of CASA of Hill County. Douglass has served as Program Director for approximately three years. He demonstrates the characteristics of an individual who is truly dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children and families through his compassion and commitment.
- CASA Staff Member of the Year. Drew MacLeod, Lead Program Coordinator, CASA of Yellowstone County. McLeod is described as an outstanding professional, mentor and leader. As part of the program reorganization in 2014, Drew was instrumental in implementing and promoting the Peer Coordinator Model in Yellowstone County.
- CASA Board Member of the Year Award, Tom McElwain, immediate Past President of the Board of Directors of CASA for Kids, Kalispell. McElwain, is described as a true visionary, strong leader and believer in the achievement of goals through collaborative teamwork.
The annual Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect Conference brings together hundreds of foster/adoptive parents, CFSD staff, tribal social services staff, county attorneys, judges, counselors, attorney’s and teachers for three days of training and breakout sessions.
For more information about the conference, go to http://dphhs.mt.gov/CFSD/CANConference