2016 Casey Excellence for Children Awards

Casey Family Programs is pleased to announce the eight winners of the 2016 national Casey Excellence for Children Awards — five family and alumni honorees, and three leadership winners.

These awards recognize outstanding individuals and leaders who have demonstrated distinguished work, exceptional leadership and relentless dedication in improving child welfare in America. Award winners are selected from among a group of outstanding nominees in five categories: birth parents, alumni of foster care, foster or adoptive parents, kinship caregivers and child welfare leaders.

Learn more about the winners and their contributions below, and view videos of our family and alumni recipients.

Family and Alumni Award Winners

Makani and Brianna Kema-Kaleiwahea, Kailua, Hawaii

Kinship caregivers

Makani and Brianna Kema-Kaleiwahea - Casey Excellence for Children Award
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Makani and Brianna Kema-Kaleiwahea
 
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Makani and Brianna Kema-Kaleiwahea
Makani grew up in Hawaii in an adoptive family of six children, including his brother, a female cousin and three other boys. All the children suffered abuse in the home, which continued after the family moved to Arizona. At age 18, Makani courageously took action to protect his siblings and stop the abuse, then made sacrifices to become their caregiver so they would not be separated in the child welfare system. He created a home for the children while he was a full-time student playing on his college football team. His high school sweetheart, Brianna Summers, moved to Arizona, and together they cared for the younger siblings. With assistance from Casey Family Programs, the couple found extended family members who wanted to help. A couple adopted one child, their great-niece. And another couple became parents to two others. Makani and Brianna married in 2014 and adopted the other two children. The Kema-Kaleiwaheas’ efforts, and those of relatives, have had invaluable impact for five vulnerable children.

 

Maritza Lorenzana, Boise, Idaho

Alumna

Maritza Lorenzana - Casey Excellence for Children Awards
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Maritza Lorenzana
 
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Maritza Lorenzana
An alumna of foster care, Maritza is a social worker, kinship caregiver and dedicated advocate for youth in foster care. Soon after she entered graduate school in 2013, Maritza learned of her nephew’s and nieces’ unstable home situation in Mexico and quickly worked to bring them to Idaho. She became their legal guardian and helped them navigate a new country — all while excelling in Master of Social Work courses, completing an internship and helping the children maintain a relationship with their birth mother. Maritza brings hope to others by mentoring youth in foster care, offering support to refugees resettling in Boise, and sharing her story as a speaker with the American Promise Alliance and the Idaho Drop-Out Summit.

 

Tracy and Douglas Christensen, Lincoln, Nebraska

Foster and adoptive parents

Tracy and Douglas Christensen - Casey Excellence for Children Awards
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Tracy and Douglas Christensen
 
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Tracy and Douglas Christensen
Tracy and Douglas Christensen brought an older foster youth, Joy, into their home in 2014 after Tracy met her while serving as a mentor at a camp for foster youth. The couple advocated for improvements in her medical treatment and helped her establish family connections that she didn’t know existed. The Christensens took Joy to Texas to visit her birth mother, who is disabled and lives in a care facility. And they visited Colorado to meet extended family. They have adopted Joy, and they have spoken at foster parent gatherings and provider meetings about the importance of maintaining biological family connections.

 

Toni Miner, Arvada, Colorado

Birth mother

Toni Miner - Casey Excellence for Children Awards
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Toni Miner
 
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Toni Miner
Toni Miner is a family advocate in Colorado and the mother of two daughters and a son. She also is the kinship caregiver and legal guardian for two grandchildren. After Toni was involved with the child welfare system, she overcame drug addiction and was reunited with her children. Toni serves as a family support partner for Jefferson County, where she helps other parents involved in the child welfare system advocate for themselves. She is member of the Birth Parent National Network and is developing a Parent Support Partner mentoring program.

 

Corey Best, Holly Hill, Florida

Birth father

Corey Best - Casey Excellence for Children Awards
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Corey Best
 
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Corey Best
Corey Best is a single father and a local and national advocate for birth parent and family engagement. After successfully overcoming addiction, he developed his parenting skills and now has a strong relationship with his 6-year-old son. As the family engagement manager with the Healthy Start Coalition of Flagler and Volusia Counties in Florida, he trains child welfare staff and helps families develop their parenting and advocacy skills. He also spearheaded a pilot Parent Partner program to help families meet goals and achieve reunification. He serves on the Substance Exposed Newborn Task Force, and the Birth Parent National Network’s Parent Council, ensuring that the voices of parents are heard.

 

Leadership Award Winners

Ann Silverberg Williamson, Salt Lake City, Utah

Executive Director, Utah Department of Children and Families

As executive director of the Utah Department of Human Services, Ann Silverberg Williamson is leading the effort to implement a comprehensive model of care to strengthen the experiences and outcomes for children, families and adults. The evidence-based model encourages individual voices in planning, assesses early risks and strengths, and leverages community partnerships for sustainable results. Under her administration, Utah operates a federal child welfare demonstration project that is reducing foster care placement, child abuse and neglect incidents and long-term social services intervention. Ms. Silverberg Williamson was selected as a 2015 Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow to focus on economic security, educational success and health and well-being for low-income families. She previously served as president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations and formerly led the Louisiana Department of Social Services.

 

James M. Henry, State of Tennessee

Deputy to the Governor and Chief of Staff

Jim Henry is the deputy to the Tennessee governor and chief of staff. He was previously the commissioner for the Department of Children’s Services, and was the first leader of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Mr. Henry collaborates closely with stakeholders, including judges, local elected officials, foundations, business leaders and the faith community. His vision has resulted in a statewide effort to better address the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences, a reduction in using congregate care, more timely permanency for children who need homes, and a contract to make Tennessee the first state to offer comprehensive services to help foster children who transition out of state custody. Mr. Henry chairs the Appalachian Child Welfare Leaders Workgroup, bringing together child welfare leaders in one of the country’s poorest regions to identify strategies to support families and children. He also served 12 years as a state representative, six of them as minority leader.

 

Judge Thomas Brittan Hammond, Georgia

Juvenile Court Judge, Toombs Judicial Circuit

Judge Britt Hammond serves as juvenile court judge of the Toombs Judicial Circuit in Georgia. Judge Hammond negotiated and developed the statewide cross-border Interstate Pact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) agreement between Alabama and Georgia. He led unprecedented engagement and collaboration between top-level child welfare and judicial leaders, policymakers and child welfare staff. In the two Alabama and Georgia counties that piloted the joint agreement, more than 70 children were housed safely with relatives across state borders, preventing entries into foster care. As a result of the agreement’s success, Judge Hammond is currently leading development of a similar agreement between Alabama and Tennessee. In addition to being a national expert in ICPC reform, Judge Hammond is a member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

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