Individuals honored for improving child welfare

Casey Family Programs is pleased to announce the winners of the annual Casey Excellence for Children Awards. These awards recognize outstanding individuals who have demonstrated distinguished work, exceptional leadership and relentless dedication in improving the child welfare system. Award winners are selected from among a group of outstanding nominees within four constituent categories: birth parents, alumni of foster care, foster parents and kinship caregivers.

“Through the work that they do every day, these individuals exemplify Casey Family Programs’ goal to have every child grow up in a healthy, safe and permanent family, and within a supportive community,” said Shelia Evans-Tranumn, chair of the Board of Trustees of Casey Family Programs. “It is so important that we recognize the individuals who improve the lives of children and families in need.”

Congratulations to the winners of the Casey Excellence for Children Awards.

Birth Parent Awards

Antinette Blocker, Mecklenburg, North Carolina

North Carolina mom helps families navigate child welfare system
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Ms. Blocker is a Family Partner who encourages parents with children involved in the child welfare system to recognize the positive attributes of their family members. She encourages them to draw strength from the positive attributes as they work with the child welfare system. Through her own experience with the child welfare system, Ms. Blocker knows what it feels like to be a parent going through an investigation without any support. Being a Family Partner has become a personal mission for Ms. Blocker. She strives to provide parents with the type of support that she wanted and needed. Ms. Blocker’s greatest strength as a Family Partner is the passion that she brings when advocating for a family. Ms. Blocker’s work for children and their families does not stop at being a Family Partner. For the past two years, she has also worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant for families who have children with disabilities. Those who know her say that Ms. Blocker is a role model for them all. Despite the trials she has experienced, she continues to move forward with a smile on her face and a heart full of love for others. Her resiliency is a beacon of hope for anyone who is experiencing difficult times in their life.

Ramiro Sanchez, Phoenix, Arizona

Arizona dad helps fathers in drug court
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Mr. Sanchez’s motivation stems from his desire to have his three children live with him on a permanent basis and for them to stay together. While his children were in the foster care system, he participated in all services, exceeded expectations when completing tasks, maintained communication and partnered with service providers. Mr. Sanchez went above and beyond in terms of providing a loving, caring and structured home for his children who are now thriving in his care.

Through his devotion to his children, partnering abilities, commitment to his own recovery, support of cultural diversity, and contributions to promoting communities of hope and prevention, he sets a positive example for others. Mr. Sanchez is currently a volunteer sponsor for other fathers going through the same process he did through drug court. Mr. Sanchez believes that helping others is a part of his responsibility to his community.

Alumni Award

Amanda Metivier, Anchorage, Alaska

Foster care alumna turns experience into system reform in Alaska
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Ms. Metivier is not only an advocate for foster care reform, but also a foster parent to teenage girls. She is also the coordinator of Facing Foster Care in Alaska (FFCA), working to amplify the voices of foster youth and alumni to raise awareness in the community, build political will and promote positive changes in the child welfare system. Under Ms. Metivier’s leadership, FFCA has now become a 501(3)c non-profit organization. Ms. Metivier led past efforts to deliver legislative testimony that resulted in passage of a bill extending foster care to age 21 and allowing youth to re-enter care. In 2012, she did the same with a bill that restricts the use of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) as a permanency goal, proposes a presumption that siblings are placed together, allows for variances of building codes in rural communities so more foster homes can get licensed, and amends the previous re-entry law to allow more youth to return to care if needed. Ms. Metivier also organized foster youth and alumni to present to legislators about foster care issues facing Alaska Native Youth. Ms. Metivier recently received a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Foster Parent Award

Mark Hinson, Hampton, Virginia

Virginia man is foster dad to many kids, resource for parents
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Mr. Hinson has been a foster parent since 1998. His journey began caring for youth after searching for a foster parent willing and able to support a young man living with HIV. Mr. Hinson has embraced the goal of reducing the number of children in foster care. He has taken the “do whatever is necessary” approach in supporting Hampton, Virginia’s philosophy that no children should be raised in group homes or treatment centers.

This approach has resulted in reducing the number of foster youth living in group homes from 250 to less than 50. Mr. Hinson also serves on the Virginia State Leadership Advisory Team and has become a resource to parents as their children return home. He also is a trainer and mentor to new foster parents, offering support and advice to all who ask.

Although Mr. Hinson acts as a father to many, he supports them connecting and living with their families even as they move toward adulthood. Mr. Hinson is an active member of his community having served as a leader in Kiwanis, the Arc and the Hampton Special Education Advisory Board.

Kinship Caregiver Award

Sharon Olson, Elk River, Minnesota

Minnesota mother helps relatives navigate kinship care
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Since 1994, when the state of New Mexico asked her to care for her three young grandchildren, Ms. Olson has dedicated herself to ensuring relative care providers have the information, support and assistance they need to provide consistent, safe and nurturing homes for the children in their care.

Ms. Olson was instrumental in the passage of Minnesota’s De Facto Custodian legislation, which was adopted in 2002 after years of research, advocacy and coalition building. For over 10 years, Sharon has served on the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association, and as the Board Chair for the past two years.

Working at the national level, Ms. Olson co-founded Grand Families of America (GFA) and currently serves as vice president. GFA’s purpose and mission is to ensure that the voice of the caregiver is heard by legislators and policymakers in Washington, D.C. GFA partners with other national organizations to respond to requests from Congress for the caregivers’ perspective on relevant legislation and real world impact of legislation on caregivers.

Ms. Olson’s work for GFA includes: helping to organize the national grand rally that brings relatives to Washington to learn about current issues and to speak with their representatives; advocating for the passage of federal legislation, the most recent being the Fostering Connections Act; serving on committees looking at child welfare and mental health issues; responding to caregivers across the country who need assistance; and helping to create a manual that provides a plain language explanation of legislation that affects the rights of relative caregivers.