2014 Casey Excellence for Children Awards

Casey Family Programs is pleased to announce the winners of the 2014 Casey Excellence for Children Awards. These awards recognize outstanding individuals whose distinguished work, exceptional leadership and relentless dedication has improved the child welfare system. Award winners are selected from among a group of outstanding nominees within five categories: birth parents, alumni of foster care, foster parents, kinship caregivers, and leaders in child welfare.

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We invite you to learn more about each below and view videos of the compelling stories and contributions of our constituent winners.

Constituent winners

Eric Luciano, San Diego, California

Birth father

Eric Luciano, San Diego, California
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Eric Luciano
 
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Eric Luciano
Mr. Luciano is involved with Paternal Opportunities Programs and Services, known as POPS, an advocacy group that encourages fathers to become engaged in their children’s lives while the children are involved with San Diego’s child welfare system. Additionally, POPS advocates for fathers with child support, custody and visitation and co-parenting issues. Mr. Luciano has been an advisory committee member with the Casey Family Programs Birth Parent Transition and Implementation Committee and currently serves on the Birth Parent Advisory Committee. He recently earned his master’s in social work and has been hired as a social worker with the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency.

 

Nancy Vivoda, Detroit, Michigan

Birth mother

Nancy Vivoda, Detroit
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Nancy Vivoda
 
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Nancy Vivoda
Nancy Vivoda is a mother of five children between the ages of 10 – 19. Ms. Vivoda overcame the obstacle of having all five of her children removed and placed into foster care and is now a respected and accomplished parent advocate in Detroit. She was the first birth parent in her county to work as a Parent Partner for the Association for Children’s Mental Health. She was recruited to work as a family advocate at the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy where she continues to work today. She is a national consultant and trainer for the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections. Since 2007, Ms. Vivoda has been engaged with Casey Family Programs’ birth parent work. Currently, she is a member of the Casey Family Programs Birth Parent Advisory Committee and is a founding member of the Birth Parent National Network.

 

Darrell Armstrong, Trenton, New Jersey

Foster care alumnus

Darrell Armstrong, Trenton, New Jersey
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Darrell Armstrong
 
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Darrell Armstrong
An alumnus of foster care, Reverend Darrell Armstrong has worked tirelessly to strengthen families by addressing issues that impact their physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being. In 2009, Rev. Armstrong founded the Institute for Clergy Training which is dedicated to helping clergy of all faiths understand family engagement programs that strengthen overall family functioning. He has been a keynote speaker at numerous national conferences including CWLA, Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems and the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Strengthening Families Summit. The author of three books, Rev. Armstrong has earned a post-master’s Educational Specialist (ED.S.) degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from the College of New Jersey and has pastored the historic Shiloh Baptist Church of Trenton, N.J. for the last 14 years. The impact of Rev. Armstrong’s work is significant. Today, he is considered a national and international leader and has made many lasting contributions on issues pertaining to child welfare, child displacement and family strengthening, particularly on foster and kinship care.

 

Michelle Burnette, California, Maryland

Foster parent

Michele Burnette - California, Maryland
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Michelle Burnette
 
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Michelle Burnette
In 2000, Michelle Burnette started a Resource Parent Association in California, Md. In 2005, she helped form the statewide Resource Parent Association and has served on its board since its inception. She has also served on the National Foster Parent Association’s board of directors since 2008 and she currently is the chairperson for the annual educational conference for Resource Parents. Three years ago, Ms. Burnette developed the nation’s first non-traditional Parent Teacher Association for Resource Parents. Ms. Burnette has represented the National Foster Parent Association in congressional hearings, authored several publications and has spoken on National Public Radio (NPR) regarding foster care.

 

Linette Kinchen, Chicago, Illinois

Kinship caregiver

Linette Kinchen, Chicago
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Linette Kinchen
 
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Linette Kinchen
A decade ago, Linette Kinchen founded the GRANDFamilies Program of Chicago, an organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for grandparents raising their grandchildren. Since then, the organization has served over 2,000 kinship families. In addition to her involvement with state policy makers, Ms. Kinchen advises the Illinois State Department of Aging on kinship related issues. Ms. Kinchen has served as one of the state’s coordinators for three national “Grand Rallies” in Washington, D.C. Her involvement with LEGACY intergenerational housing led to a national educational convening for all Housing and Urban Development employees about kinship care providers and their housing needs.

Leadership winners

Reggie Bicha, Denver, Colorado

Executive Director, Colorado Department of Human Services

Reggie Bicha
Reggie Bicha

Reggie Bicha was appointed the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Human Services in 2011. He has extensive experience working on child welfare, education, employment and health issues at the county, state and national levels. Director Bicha has helped to lead a 33 percent safe reduction of the number of children in foster care in Colorado between 2005 and 2013. During that time, Colorado also maintained an approximate rate of 85 percent of children in care exiting to permanency. The number of children achieving permanency in Colorado is 50 percent, 10 percent above the national average, and the percentage of children who do not experience maltreatment within six months is 93 percent. When Director Bicha assumed leadership, the state child welfare system was in considerable flux. Director Bicha’s steady leadership has enabled a practice model to take shape, the implementation of a Title IV-E waiver and a strong partnership with counties to emerge.

 

Dr. Allison Blake, New Jersey

Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Children and Families

Allison Blake
Allison Blake

For nearly 30 years, Dr. Allison Blake has been working on behalf of children and families. She served for 18 years at the formerly named New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, where she worked in direct service and administrative positions. Dr. Allison Blake was appointed Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) in 2010. As commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, she has led the development of the blueprint for the state’s child welfare system with an emphasis of working in partnership with NJ’s communities to help ensure the safety, wellbeing, and success of NJ’s children and families. Between 2005 and 2012 New Jersey DCF has safely reduced the number of children in care by 41.1 percent. During the same seven year span, exits to permanency increased. Dr. Blake and her staff continually review both the data and their practice to safely keep children at home and find timely permanency.

 

Marc Cherna, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania

Director, Allegheny County Department of Human Services

Marc Cherna
Marc Cherna

Marc Cherna has served as Director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) for over 17 years. He has implemented system-wide changes that have resulted in significant improvement in outcomes for vulnerable children and families. Director Cherna has lead Allegheny County DHS to achieve improved outcomes over the past three years. Under his leadership, DHS safely reduced the number of children in out of home care by 48 percent between 2005 and 2013. Exits to permanency and reunification have increased. Of all children who exited care in Allegheny County in 2012, over 80 percent of children exited to permanency, including 72 percent of those exiting to reunification. Director Cherna began his career in human services as a youth worker over 40 years ago. He has extensive experience in the field, including 13 years as an Assistant Director with the New Jersey Department of Human Services.

 

Judge Michael Nash, Los Angeles, California

Presiding Judge Juvenile Division, Los Angeles Superior Court

Judge Michael Nash
Judge Michael Nash

Michael Nash, the current Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court, was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1985. Elevated to the Superior Court in December 1989, Judge Nash was assigned to the Juvenile Dependency Court the following year. Since 1995, he has served as either Supervising Judge of the Juvenile Dependency Court or Presiding Judge of the entire Juvenile Court. Nationally, Judge Nash is a former president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and is a member of the Board of Fellows of the National Center for Juvenile Justice. Judge Nash has improved the well-being of and permanency for children in the Los Angeles County child welfare system through his efforts to reduce the number of children in congregate care and their length of stay; increase and improve oversight of children receiving psychotropic medication; and the creation of Adoption Saturday.

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