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NEWS Improving and Protecting the Health, Well-Being
and Self-Reliance of All Montanans.

April 16, 2013
Contact:  Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936
              Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391

Montanans honored for efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect

Montanans dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect were honored today at the annual Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect Conference in Helena, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) announced today.

Those recognized were licensed foster parents, youth in foster care, child advocates, and DPHHS Child and Family Services Division staff.

“Today we honor Montanans who work behind the scenes every day to protect our kids,” DPHHS Director Richard Opper said. “These amazing people are from communities all over Montana and work in this field to help children and strengthen families. I commend them for continuing to put our children’s safety first.”

DPHHS and the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) organization gave out the following awards:

CASA Awards
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. CASA award winners were:  

  • Judge of the Year. The late Honorable Judge Gary L. Day (16th Judicial District). The late Honorable Judge Day has long supported Eastern Montana CASA/GAL. He worked hard to help train volunteers about his expectations and would always provide the opportunity for volunteers to speak in court. Judge Day passed away in February and the Eastern Montana CASA/GAL Program has received memorial funds in Judge Day’s memory.  Accepting the award on behalf of Judge Day’s family was Cherie LeBlanc, Program Director for Eastern Montana CASA/GAL Program in Miles City.
  • Director of the Year. Kiersta Sullivan, Director of Front Range CASA/GAL Program, Conrad. Kiersta works many hours alongside board members in raising funds, writing grants and capacity building in order to keep the program running effectively. Through Kiersta’s efforts, the Front Range CASA program continues to diligently work so that every child has a CASA. Her commitment to working together to benefit children not only in her area, but across the state is nothing short of amazing.
  • CASA Volunteer of the Year. Pat Bellinghausen, Yellowstone CASA. Pat became a CASA Volunteer with the Yellowstone CASA Program three years ago and since then she has worked tirelessly in her advocacy for children. Pat’s efforts go above and beyond expectations to help parents learn how to advocate for their own children and empower families to make changes in their lives for the sake of the whole family. She realizes the "big picture" of CASA and works to connect the Yellowstone CASA program to resources, potential new volunteers and community partners.  Quite frankly, Pat is the kind of volunteer you want six of. There are families reunited today due to her efforts.

DPHHS awards:

  • Montana’s Children’s Trust Fund Award. The 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 an individual every year who has gone above and beyond to help children and families.

Award winner: Robin Suzor, Helena.
Robin Suzor served as the Grants Manager for the Children’s Trust Fund for over six years. She worked tirelessly assisting the Children’s Trust Fund Board as well as state and community organizations to provide child abuse and neglect prevention services. Robin excelled at balancing many programs and meetings to keep prevention efforts focused and moving forward. Standing up for child abuse and neglect prevention, Robin made a great impact for Montana’s most vulnerable. She could not be more deserving for her dedication to the protection and safety of the children of Montana.

  • Resource Parents of the Year. This award goes to foster/adoptive parent(s) who are committed to excellence in working with birth parents and foster/adoptive children.  

Award winner: Wilbur and Michelle Douma, Bozeman. Over the years, the Douma’s have provided foster care to 21 children. They are willing to take any number of sibling groups and are available at any time, day or night, to provide a safe home for children.  The Doumas have regularly driven throughout the state of Montana to help facilitate sibling visits, parent visits and visits with extended family. They maintain their relationship with these children and keep their connection with them, something that is vitally important to kids growing up in the foster system. 

  • Youth Achievement of the Year. This award is given to a foster or adoptive youth who exhibits a drive to be successful and make positive changes in their life.

Award winner: Isaiah Wolcott, Butte. Isaiah, age 18, was placed into foster care with his grandmother when he was age 8 due to on-going physical abuse and physical neglect by his birth parents. As a teenager, Isaiah expressed a desire to have contact with his birth parents. Isaiah met with his therapist and his Guardian ad Litem to review the reasons for his removal and the termination of parental rights. Isaiah required that his parents attend family therapy with him to begin the visitation process. As a result, Isaiah and his father have a good relationship today. Isaiah and another foster child assisted their social worker in starting a monthly support group for fellow foster children. Isaiah is motivated to provide other foster children an opportunity to talk about their experiences and concerns with someone who has gone through some of their same experiences.

  • Above and Beyond Award. This award goes to an individual who performs above and beyond the call of duty, gives their time to support the unit, team, agency and /or community.

Award winner: Ann Baker, Havre. As a former CPS Specialist, Ann worked tirelessly with children, families, and the court to achieve timely and quality outcomes for children and youth. She never let barriers stand in the way of good outcomes for children and youth. Ann also actively involved the families’ support system to strengthen the families’ protective capacities. In her recent position as the supervisor of the Havre CFSD office, Ann works daily to confront overwhelming challenges. Because of her dedication to children and her willingness to work hard, child protection services in Hill County is in a better place today.

  • Creative Solutions. This award goes to an individual or team utilizes creative problem-solving and resource allocation to better serve children and families.

Award winner: 36 Child and Family Service Division staff. Billings: Doug Anderson, Jason Larson, Joan McLuskie. Bozeman: Joe Albro, Whitney Cole. Butte: Ronda Belgarde, Jennifer Hoerauf. Great Falls: Cindy Askelson, Cory Costello, Talisa Hides, April Jones, Marti Vining, Adell Wearley. Helena: Janice Basso, Laurie Chandler, Jack Clearman, Yvette Keller, Mark Laramore, Mick Leary, Kandice Morse, Dawn Piazzi, Michelle Sobonya, Jackie Stoeckel, Ryan Tofflemire and Erica Wimmer. Kalispell: Pat Sylvia. Lewiston: Jim Moe. Libby: Cathy Spencer. Malta: Sarah Mason. Miles City: Eric Barnosky, Grant Larsen and Jennifer Winkley. Missoula: Courtney Callaghan, Kerrie Ghenie, Nikki Grossberg and Kate Larcom.

CFSD has worked hard over the past two years to implement a child welfare safety practice model - also known as "SAMS" - or the Safety Assessment and Management System. The implementation of SAMS began as a requirement of the federal program improvement plan. Yet, at the time that CFSD completed its program improvement plan; the implementation of SAMS had only just begun. The safety committee has stepped up to continue the hard work of implementation. They have shown the ability to lead through creative problem-solving and true engagement in the process. Through the hard work of the safety committee, CFSD has continued to implement the model with success.

  • Engaging Families in Positive Change. 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.

Award winner: Jennifer Blodget, Child Protective Services Specialist, Kalispell.  Jennifer maintains a high ongoing case load as well as taking new reports. She engages families from the first knock on the door and utilizes available services to ensure their needs are met and the children are safe in the home. She attends weekly meetings with families to assist with wraparound services as well as to provide support and motivation.

Page last updated: April 16, 2013