Montanans honored for child abuse prevention

Montanans dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect will be honored at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, April 19 at the annual Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect Conference in Missoula at the Hilton Garden Inn, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) has announced.

 Those being recognized this year are from Missoula, Havre, Billings, Miles City, Helena, Libby, Dillon, White Sulphur Springs and include licensed foster parents, youth in foster care, child advocates, and DPHHS Child and Family Services Division (CFSD) staff.

Helena’s Ben and Lena Havron and Dillon’s Yuvanne Turney will be honored as this year’s co-Foster Parents of the Year. While both award winners are on two different extremes, they both share in their compassion for helping children. The Havrons have fostered one child over two years, while Turney, along with her late husband, Jack, have fostered about 300 children over 30 years.

 However, according to DPHHS Director Richard Opper, it’s not the numbers that matter. “Even if one child is helped through our foster care program, then it’s all worth it,” he said. “Foster parents can change a child’s life forever and these two families are proof of that. Both these families have stepped up to provide a loving home to Montana kids, and I’m so proud of them. You just can’t put a price tag on that type of sacrifice and commitment.”

The Havrons were nominated by Charlie Heil, who has lived with the Helena family as a foster child for the past couple years. The Helena teenager said the Havrons have helped myriad ways. “Ben and Lena have had a huge impact on my life,” she said. “Most important of all, they made me part of their family. They gave me my first birthday party. My most favorite memory was when I was walking up to their house for the first time ever and Lena hugged me and said, ‘welcome home’. I couldn't have asked for more amazing foster parents.”


The Havrons said they didn’t plan to become foster parents until Charlie came into their lives, but they knew instantly that it was the right thing to do. The Helena teen is set to graduate high school this spring, and has plans to attend college. The Havrons are quick to deflect any credit. “We’re just so appreciative that Charlie came into our lives, and we can’t imagine life without her,” Ben said. “She has such a bright future ahead.”


Turney decided earlier this year it was time to retire from fostering. She said she already misses it, but has many fond memories and is proud that her family was able to open their home to many children in need of care. She said two boys the Turneys fostered stand out most, one who went on to be a Navy Seal and the other who ended up becoming a professional underwater welder.


From her many years fostering, Turney said children yearn for stability. “They just want to be part of a family,” she said. “They need that stable environment. These children all need a home and they all deserve one.”


According to CFSD’s Laura McCullough, Turney was an amazing foster parent. “She has truly influenced change, been a support for youth who need stability and, always had an open door and heart,” McCullough said. “Even when a 3 a.m. phone call came and we requested her assistance, she would answer with a sweet ‘hello’ and ‘of course I will.’ She has shown us the best in human character and a true passion to help those in need.”


In SFY 2015, DPHHS completed over 8,900 investigations of child abuse and neglect involving nearly 13,000 children. The number of children in foster care continues to climb. As of March 2016 there were 3,126 Montana children in foster care, the highest number of kids in care over the past 16 years. In Montana, there are 1,155 licensed foster families.  


The annual Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect Conference brings together hundreds of foster/adoptive parents, CFSD staff, tribal social services staff, county attorneys, judges, counselors, attorney’s and teachers for three days of training and breakout sessions.


This year, over 400 people are registered. The conference includes four keynote speakers and 15  sessions.


Additional CFSD award recipients are:


·         Engaging Families in Positive Change. This award goes to an individual or individuals who works with families to carry out the mission of CFSD in a manner that is positive and respectful of each family’s strengths.


The nomination letter reads:

Gerry Hill, Helena. As a child protection specialist with the Lewis and Clark County CFSD office, Hill maintains a family-centered approach to all his cases and everyone he deals with. He always has a positive attitude and engages families with a hopeful and positive message. Gerry brings a unique perspective to his position and has great people skills which has translated to success with clients and families.


The nomination letter reads:

Donna Parrish, Libby. Donna defines what giving 110 percent means. She is selfless in her dedication to the individuals assigned to her, both children and adults. This is not a journey they walk alone because she is there every step of the way. She persevered and accomplished all that was required of her and more. Donna makes our world a little safer for children and more navigable for parents.


·         Youth Achievement of the Year. This award is given to a foster or adoptive youth(s) who exhibits a drive to be successful and makes positive changes in their life.


The nomination letter reads:

Gajhia Rosenthal, White Sulphur Springs. Rosenthal is an impressive 14-year-old girl who has spent over three years in the foster care system. She consistently maintains a GPA of between 3.0 and 4.0 and is an avid reader. She would like to be a veterinarian when she grows up and has put herself squarely on the path of success.


The nomination letter reads:

Charley Ann Benford, Helena. Benford is an outstanding student and role model. She recently received awards at school for attendance, grades and citizenship. She also volunteers in the community and participates in basketball, track and cross country. She has a kind heart and encourages those around her to be kind as well.


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


The nomination letter reads:

Havre CFSD Office, Havre. Ike Jessee, Hosanna Hutchins, Andrew Prevost, Steve Snell, Sara Bragg, Dana Kjersem, Brandi Garden and Elizabeth Lake. The Havre Child and Family Services Office is receiving this award for their work with the Chippewa Cree and Ft. Belknap tribes. By focusing on developing new and improved communication methods and focusing on increased collaboration, this group has been able to strengthen their working relationship with their tribal partners. These efforts have resulted in more placement options for youth, among the many positive changes overall.


·         Resiliency Award. This award goes to an individual or team that displays traits that foster a supportive and positive work environment and that embody a healthy work/life balance.


The nomination letter reads:

Field Resource Supervisors Colleen Lippke (Helena), Doug Miller (Great Falls) and Joan McLuskie (Billings). This Family Resource Specialist Supervisor team has done a tremendous job of working together to maintain statewide licensing support through significant change. When faced with a reduction in staff while licensing positions were temporarily adjusted to fill the gap in child protection services, these supervisors worked diligently to develop and maintain coverage of licensing functions across regional boundaries. They have also been instrumental in developing a partnership with community providers in an effort to address the number of kinship homes awaiting licensing.  Their commitment to expanding their areas of responsibility, continuing to maintain progress, and making the safety of children a continued priority is vital to the success of their program.



Montana’s Children’s Trust Fund (CTF) Award awards

The Children’s 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 individuals who have gone above and beyond to help children and families.


Strengthening Families Award, Melainya Ryan, Women’s Resource Center, Dillon. This award is given to an individual who has shown a passion and dedication for strengthening Montana families and communities so that children grow up in safe stable environments. This individual goes above and beyond to serve their community to prevent child abuse and neglect.


Ryan is a licensed professional counselor who has worked with the Women’s Resource/Community Support Center in Dillon providing free counseling services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. In addition to the direct services, she spends a significant amount of time educating community members about violence and prevention of child abuse. Additionally, she has provided Circle of Security, an attachment-based parenting education program, to more than 100 individuals.


Through her work and dedication, Ryan has been able to connect hundreds of parents and caregivers with concrete resources and numerous social supports have been fostered. While these direct services are most often thought to benefit families at risk, she works to engage all families as each and every family can benefit from enhanced protective factors. 


Montana Service Award/ CTF Board Award, Jo Ann Eder (Red Lodge) and Casey Malloy (Helena). The CTF board award recognized past Board members that have dedicated their life to helping reduce and eliminated child abuse and neglect in Montana. They have shown passion and exemplary leadership in strengthening Montana families.


Eder served for nine years with the last three years as the CTF board Vice President and as Chair. She provided leadership and institutional knowledge for moving the MT Children's Trust Fund into a new era for understanding data and utilizing it to help those most in need. She always put an emphasis on providing services to Montana's tribal populations and had a strong passion especially for children with mental and physical disabilities.


Malloy served for on the MT Children's Trust Fund Board for three years. She was instrumental in helping the CTF begin relationships with schools and was a great advocate for providing resources and funding for children with mental health issues. As an educator she felt strongly that children are the most precious and important asset that Montana has for the future. Malloy continually volunteered at CTF events and helped spread awareness about the CTF mission throughout Montana schools.


Outstanding Corporate Citizenship Award, Montana Television Network and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana. The MT Children's Trust Fund is proud to award two corporations for their outstanding support of Child Abuse and Neglect.


The Montana Television Network (MTN) has supported the CTF awareness efforts of child abuse and neglect since 2013. MTN has supported statewide awareness of the CTF mission and work to strengthen families, nurture children, support communities to ultimately end child abuse and neglect in MT. This spring, MTN is sponsoring two child abuse prevention-focused PSAs that will air through September. This is their 4th year sponsoring CTF fall and spring activities.  MTN has continually shown unwavering support for the MT CTF, and have a strong dedication to helping end child abuse and neglect.


Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana (BCBSMT) has been instrumental in the CTF April efforts.  This is the second year the CTF has received a $10,000 grant from BCBSMT. This year, the funding is being used to help partner with organizations across the state to raise awareness of the many great resources Montana has to strengthen families and keep children safe. Giving back to Montana communities is an extension of BCBSMT's commitment to build lasting relationships with communities across Montana. BCBSMT employees are dedicated to volunteering with CTF, helping raise awareness of the importance of child abuse and neglect prevention, and ultimately helping eliminate child abuse and neglect in Montana.   



Every year, CASA of Montana recognizes outstanding people who have consistently demonstrated a special level of dedication to the CASA programs and the care and protection of abused and neglected children. The 2016 award winners are listed here:


·         CASA Judge of the Year: Hon. James P. Reynolds, District Court Judge, Helena

One nomination letter reads:

Hon. James P. Reynolds has been selected as the CASA Judge of the Year. Judge Reynolds has served as a District Court Judge since January 2011. Known for his soft spoken style, compassion for families and children, and encouragement to parents, Judge Reynolds instills the seriousness of dependent-neglect cases and ultimately the protection of children.  Judge Reynolds’ leadership is significant as evidenced by his frequent acknowledgment of the importance of the role and responsibility of the CASA advocate in a case. He expects active input by the CASA advocate into decisions around the selection of permanent placements, transition time frames and plans, appropriate parental contact and placing the child’s needs first. 


·         CASA Volunteer Advocate of the Year: Mary Ann Morehead, a CASA Volunteer Advocate from the CASA of Yellowstone County program

One nomination letter reads:

Morehead been selected as the CASA Volunteer Advocate of the Year. She began her CASA career in January 2015 with one active case, one child, but has since taken on a second case with two children. She excels in her CASA position by ensuring the three children and their families and caregivers receive appropriate services in a timely manner. For services still needed, she is a tireless advocate. In her detailed, knowledgeable and informative reports, she brings her concerns and observations about the child’s physical and mental health, education and home environment to the appropriate professionals. 


·         CASA Program Director of the Year: Cherie LeBlanc-Dyba, Executive Director of Eastern Montana CASA GAL, Inc.

One nomination letter reads:

LeBlanc-Dyba has been selected as the CASA Program Director of the Year. Cherie’s program is located in Miles City, but the program covers 32,000 square miles, 12 counties and a population of 54,000. CASA of Eastern Montana provides CASA advocates in the 7th and 16th Judicial Districts. Cherie was one of the first six CASA advocates appointed in Nov. 1983 by her program and has served as an advocate for 98 children from 1983-2015.  Her first CASA child is still in touch with her today.


·         CASA Staff Member of the Year: Dennis Radtke, Volunteer Coordinator, CASA of Missoula

One nomination letter reads:

Radtke of CASA of Missoula has been selected as the CASA Staff Member of the Year. In 2008, Dennis joined the staff of CASA of Missoula as Program Director. In 2012, Dennis took the position of volunteer coordinator. He has been the lead trainer for over 21 training classes and has trained over 300 volunteer advocates. Class participants have the utmost respect for Dennis, and they graduate from the training with the same energy and enthusiasm as he puts forth as class leader. Advocates are well equipped to take on tough cases, and they always feel supported by Dennis as they embark on their journey as a CASA advocate.


·         CASA Board Member of the Year Award:  the late Greg Jensen, past Vice-President and member of the Board of Directors of CASA of Missoula.

One nomination letter reads:

Jensen has been selected to receive the CASA Board Member of the Year Award. Greg passed away unexpectedly in February 2016 after living his 59 years as a shining rainbow to all of his family, friends, students and community. Greg was a treasured and exemplary board member. He had infectious energy and enthusiasm. His willingness to help the program was a ray of sunshine and hope. Greg supported CASA events by being one of the first to ask what he could do and how he could help. Greg attended every swearing in ceremony for new CASA advocates. Most recently he served on the “Light of Hope” committee and was instrumental in helping to achieve the highest gross and net income in the 16 years the event has been a fundraiser for CASA of Missoula.


·         CASA Child Protection Specialist of the Year Award: Brent Lashinski, CPS Supervisor, Child & Family Services Division, Helena

One nomination letter reads:

Lashinski has been selected to receive the CASA Child Protection Specialist of the Year Award. Nominated by the staff of CASA of Lewis & Clark and Broadwater Counties and its CASA advocates, Brent is described as possessing a high level of professionalism, being a team player, appreciative and respectful of the role of the CASA advocate and above all, being completely focused on the children and their families. Brent has been a CPS Supervisor for two years, preceded by three years as a CPS worker and before that over five years working in Centralized Intake. CASA advocates enjoy working cases when Brent is involved because they know there will be a solution to the case that is best for the children.

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