Community members and students making a difference in their lives and others’ were celebrated Thursday at the annual Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services’ Rising Up/Moving On breakfast.
The event acknowledges and celebrates youths, youth advocates and others in the community who overcome barriers and make a difference.
“It is important that we all work together to give children the happy, healthy and carefree childhoods they deserve,” said speaker Carla Carpenter, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Office of Families and Children Systems and Practice Bureau chief.
Carpenter spoke of the ODJFS’s upcoming federal Child and Family Services Review Process to ensure the agency and all its county offices are improving their practices and outcomes for families and children.
“Helping children and families achieve safety, permanency and well being is why we do the work we do every day,” she said. “So it is really nice and works out well that the federal review process mirrors our core goals as a child welfare system.”
The review, which will begin in 2017, is a five-step process that incorporates self-assessment, on-site review and data profiling, a final report, a program improvement plan and a measurement of progress. The federal agency that oversees the agency is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Parenting is a hard job,” Carpenter said. “There are no perfect parents or perfect families. Everyone needs help sometimes, and everyone can prevent child abuse and neglect.”
Individuals should protect children, report abuse and reflect on their own interactions to improve outcomes for children, she said. Abuse can be anonymously reported in the state by calling 855-642-4453.
Champaign County Commissioner Dave Faulkner read the commissioners’ proclamation at the breakfast, denoting April 2016 as the Celebration of Family and Children Month.
“I thank you guys for the job that you do,” he said. “Your compassion, drive and desire to do what it is you do for the people of Champaign County. If they had to depend on us to do it, it probably wouldn’t get done. On behalf of the commissioners, I thank you. Keep up the good work.”
Sara Wright, Champaign County’s Department of Job and Family Services supervisor, said most people have a misconception that the agency’s Child Protective Services only focuses on child welfare.
“It’s more than that. It’s about children and families,” she said. “It’s about being able to interview parents and engage them, discover their strengths and weaknesses. It’s about identifying supports in agencies and the family’s informal system that shape and mold their every day.”
Wright said the agency now has 19 children in custody, the highest number in nearly a decade.
“As much as we try, it will never be enough. Government is no replacement for a family,” she said. “We, as a larger community, can engage individuals and families to build their own resources and, with that assistance, fill that void. Child Protective Services ensure the safety of children by identifying the needs a family has, their supports and strengths. The biggest compliment we receive is that we are no longer needed.”
Wright noted April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“What better way to prevent abuse then build supports, build the foundation for the future,” she said. “The children of today will be the parents of tomorrow, and we can help them now.”
The Champaign Department of Job and family Services had 264 investigations and assessments in 2014, Supervisor Amber Spence said. The total number of children in the agency’s custody was 19, with five in permanent custody.
The 2016 Rising Star Award went to Miranda McDaniel. She helped start a backpack program for students at Triad Elementary, which sends anonymous backpacks filled with food home with students to eat over the weekend, according to her nominator. She spends one night a week with her church group service families at The Caring Kitchen. She also takes time out of her schedule and uses some of her own money to support children in Champaign County.
The Rising Star Award is given to a parent who advocates for the betterment of all children, according to the nomination form.
The 2016 Youth Advocate Award went to Triad High School guidance counselor Kacy Moore. The award is for those who have gone above and beyond in their commitment to children and families in Champaign County.
The nominator said Moore, in her first year as the sole counselor for the high school, is seeing a stream of students on a daily basis in her office. She is often seen in the hallways checking on students, or eating lunch in the cafeteria with them. The nominator said a student mentioned she was changing the culture at the school and “she should get some kind of award for that.”
Other nominees include West Liberty-Salem High School senior Joseph “Joey” Adams and Graham Middle School teacher Miriam Helman. Adams volunteers his time to help students with multiple disabilities with reading, math and writing. He develops relationships with those students and helps them with social skills. Helman works with all students and gives up her personal time and her lunch hour to do so. She offers free tutoring to parents as well.
Rising Up/Moving On
The 2016 Rising Up/Moving On award went to Stacy Fulco. The award is for youths living in the community who have faced adversity but are moving past it. Fulco’s nominator said she is in foster care, her mother is deceased, and she struggles with others. She has grown to conceptualize the consequences of her actions and lets those consequences guide her behavior. The nominator said Fulco was recently smacked in the face by another and didn’t retaliate, but reported the incident instead. She said in the past she would have retaliated. Fulco is improving her grades and wants to continue to improve, eventually going to college to study early childhood education and help others.
Nominees for the Rising Up/Moving On award were Triad student Kelsey Cole, Russian born student Alena Evans, Graham High School student Breanne Griffith and Mechanicsburg student Erin Smith.
Cole’s nomination form said she has not seen her parents in more than three years and now lives with her grandparents. Her overall disposition has improved, she no longer misses multiple school days and she has improved her grades. She wants to be a nurse practitioner.
Evans was adopted from Russia and had to learn a new language and culture. She continues to work daily to graduate from high school and wants to attend college.
Griffith struggled with reading and comprehension due to a medical issue, but has improved and is now on the Graham honor roll. She wants to be a dental hygienist.
Smith had a troubled youth, was suspended from school multiple times over the years, but is now on track to graduate a year early and has not been in trouble all year. She went from being “disrespectful and insubordinate” to “polite and courteous,” according to her nominator. She wants to be a medical assistant.