2018 Casey Excellence for Children Awards
Casey Family Programs is pleased to announce winners of the national Casey Excellence for Children Awards. These awards, presented at a reception in Seattle on January 9, 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 in five categories: birth parents, alumni of foster care, foster or adoptive parents, kinship caregivers and child welfare leaders.
“It’s our absolute honor to recognize these outstanding people for advocating so strongly on behalf of children and their families, and for giving them greater opportunities to thrive,” said David C. Mills, chair of the Board of Trustees of Casey Family Programs. “These honorees are making the world a better place for children and families.”
Family and Alumni Award Winners
Rosalio Chavoya, San Jose, California
Rosalio Chavoya works as a mentor parent with Dependency Advocacy Center, a nonprofit that provides free legal services to parents involved in Santa Clara County’s child welfare system, including many who seek reunifications with their children. The center had represented Mr. Chavoya through his own successful family reunification. He had entered the juvenile dependency system with a history of substance abuse, crime and gang activity — including time spent incarcerated. As a provider of peer-to-peer support, Mr. Chavoya relates especially well to fathers re-entering society after incarceration. His guidance has led to many successful reunifications between fathers and children in Santa Clara County. Mr. Chavoya also provides leadership through committees, trainings and presentations within the child welfare arena, working alongside judges, attorneys, social workers and a variety of community stakeholders.
Alise Hegle, Seattle, Washington
Alise Hegle is a compassionate ally and forceful advocate for birth parents. As a peer mentor for Washington state’s Parents to Parents Program, she uses her own life lessons to engender hope in families involved in the dependency system. She works for Children’s Home Society of Washington, where she makes sure the birth parent perspective is reflected in state and local policy, practice and system reforms in child welfare. Ms. Hegle’s daughter was removed at birth due to her struggles with substance abuse and a pending prison sentence. As part of her sentencing, however, Ms. Hegle participated in a treatment program and reunified the following year with her daughter, now nearly 9. Ms. Hegle shares her story of reunification not only to inspire birth parents, but also to educate state and federal policymakers about systemic barriers that impede families from thriving.
Lupe O. Tovar, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Lupe O. Tovar possesses one of the strongest voices of alumni of foster care in the country. She has been active in Foster Care Alumni of America, founding local chapters in Arizona and Oklahoma, and serving on the national board of directors for 10 years. Working through local and national alumni chapters, she helps to plan and host annual holiday dinners that serve as reunions at a time when many young alumni struggle with finding a place to connect. Ms. Tovar has helped push for critical child welfare reforms on the federal level. She has participated in Capitol Hill briefings, testified before congressional committees and attended the 2011 Oval Office signing of the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act. In 2015, the White House recognized her as a Foster Care Youth Champion of Change.
Lynn Urvina, Lacey, Washington
Lynn Urvina is a kinship navigator for the nonprofit Family Education and Support Services. She provides practical and emotional support to caregivers who, like her, are raising grandchildren. She helps kinship caregivers traverse court systems, work with Child Protective Services and advocate on behalf of the children. She also links them to benefits and services they need to raise children successfully. In addition, Ms. Urvina facilitates the Washington state Kinship Caregiver Support Program in her local area. She and her husband began raising her granddaughter, Tara, when the child was 11 months old. It was not always easy and Ms. Urvina sought help by attending a kinship support group. One evening, a local kinship navigator made a presentation to the group and mentioned that she soon would be leaving the job. Ms. Urvina knew right then that kinship navigation was her calling.
Robin Whiting, Melbourne, Florida
Foster or Adoptive Parent
Robin Whiting has adopted five children and fostered more than 30, most of them needing extensive medical care. A trained emergency medical technician, neonatal nurse and the first female firefighter in Brevard County, Fla., she helped launch the county’s Medical Foster Care Program, which helps foster parents care for medically fragile children. While serving as a medical foster care coordinator in 2004, Ms. Whiting met Robie, an 11-month-old boy whom doctors said would never walk, talk or thrive. Ms. Whiting adopted Robie, and today he walks, talks, rides horses, swims, kayaks and is the very picture of happiness. Since welcoming Robie into her family, Ms. Whiting has adopted three of Robie’s biological sisters and a 2-year-old girl with a history of three open-heart surgeries.
Leadership Award Winners
Judge Andy Hosmer, Springfield, Missouri
Judge Andy Hosmer is juvenile judge in the 31st Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri (Greene County). In his time on the bench, he has instituted a series of major reforms including: prioritizing slow-moving and high-needs cases; launching a court specifically for older youth in foster care; and establishing a residential placement review hearing process. His case management and assignment systems ensure that children in foster care are on quicker paths to permanency and experience shorter lengths of stay. Judge Hosmer’s “T-N-T” (Teens in Transition) court is a voluntary docket that engages the community to help older youth in foster care pursue their educational goals and secure career-track jobs. His purpose in establishing residential placement review hearings was to create a process for safely moving children out of residential care.
Jami Ledoux, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Jami Ledoux became director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ Child Welfare Services division in 2014 at a tumultuous time for the agency. Under her leadership, the state was able to safely and substantially reduce entries into foster care, which had risen nearly 50 percent over four years. Partnering with Casey Family Programs, Ms. Ledoux developed the multi-faceted “Sooner Sentinel Sites Initiative,” which is addressing a number of system issues including: enhanced training for staff and resource parents; improved outreach to lawmakers, American Indian tribes, the judiciary and the public; and the use of data to demonstrate how policy and practice changes can move children more quickly to permanency.
Gregory McKay, Phoenix, Arizona
Greg McKay, director of Arizona’s Department of Child Safety since 2015, has presided over a system transformation. Facing an investigations backlog of more than 16,000 cases, the department introduced a “lean-inspired” management system that has empowered teams to track weekly progress, quickly shift resources, measure results and ultimately eliminate the backlog. Under his leadership, the number of children in foster care in Arizona has been safely reduced by nearly 20 percent. The reduction of children in care is the result of reduced investigative and ongoing caseloads, allowing for more time to engage families and successfully manage safety risks. A former detective specializing in crimes against children and homicide, Mr. McKay has brought his experience to bear in child welfare by helping his team understand the importance of teamwork and camaraderie while serving the mission of helping all of Arizona’s children achieve safety so they can grow and thrive.
Rep. Ruth Kagi, Shoreline, Washington
Ruth Kagi, a member of the Washington state House of Representatives since 1999, is hailed as one of the most effective and influential advocates for children, youth and families in the state. Her legislative agenda focuses on improving the quality of early learning and child care, and improving foster care. She currently chairs the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee and was a prime sponsor of far-reaching legislation passed in 2017 to restructure the state child welfare system, creating a new Department of Children, Youth and Families. That change was among other new laws and funding approved last year to reform child welfare programs and better support foster parents. She is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, where she has championed a broad array of budget items, including supports for child welfare caseworkers and foster families. Representative Kagi is a past chair of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Human Services Committee.
Life of Hope Award Winner
Tony Shellman, New York City, New York
Tony Shellman was left in the care of Catholic Charities as an infant because his parents felt they could not adequately provide for him. Adopted at age 2, he grew up to become an entrepreneur and accomplished fashion designer who has never forgotten his personal connection to foster care. He has initiated various projects that mentored youth in foster care and exposed them to career opportunities in the fashion apparel business. He also has been a spokesman for National Foster Care Month. Mr. Shellman made his mark in the fashion industry in 1996 when he co-founded the hip-hop clothing label Enyce, now owned by Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs. Today, Mr. Shellman is vice president of operations for SLUSA Productions, a creative agency specializing in film production, digital media, brand strategy and project design. His success serves as an inspiration for other youth.