BPNN 2017 Virtual Convening

Opportunities for Parent Voices to Transform Systems

The Birth Parent National Network’s (BPNN) hosted it's third virtual convening. BPNN members and keynote speakers shared new ideas and strategies to create opportunities for parent voices to improve policies and practices impacting children and families nationwide.

  • Goals
  • November 30th
  • December 5th

Select a Date to view a video segment

Virtual Convening Goals

  • Share and learn about new ideas and resources that states and local communities are using to effectively support parent partnerships in policy and systems reforms.
  • Develop knowledge and discuss strategies to support parents in speaking with policymakers to shape policies and practices that affect children and families.
  • Hear from keynote speakers on national trends, national initiatives and research about ways parents can share their ideas and develop solutions with staff, key community stakeholders and policymakers on preventive practices and policies that strengthen families and communities.

What Parents Say About…What Works in Substance Abuse Recovery to Strengthen Protective Factors in Families and Ensure Children’s Safety and Well-Being.

BPNN Virtual Convening Co-Facilitators: Corey B. Best (FL) and Suzanne Sellers (IL)


Suzanne Sellers

Suzanne SellersSuzanne Sellers is a passionate and committed advocate for the reform of the child welfare system and is the mother of two adult children, ages 24 and 22 years. Suzanne suffered from substance abuse disorder and her parental rights were terminated in 1999, although she had been drug and alcohol free for more than two years at the time. Suzanne celebrated 20 years of freedom from drug and alcohol usage in September 2017. She was able to reunite with her children when they each attained the age of 18 years old. Her child welfare system experience made her an advocate and gave her a purpose, which is to help families be reunified and have the justice they deserve.

Suzanne is uniquely qualified personally, professionally, and academically to address the need for child welfare reform. Suzanne is the Founder and Executive Director of Families Organizing for Child Welfare Justice (www.focwj.org). FOCWJ provides direct services to parents with past or present child welfare involvement and seeks to train, educate, and organize families in child welfare reform. In addition to leading FOCWJ, Suzanne is a member of a number of professional coalitions, committees and working groups including the IL-7th Congressional District Public Policy Working Group on Child Welfare and Women’s Issues. She also travels the globe for the purposes of networking and global coalition building, visiting organizations in other countries that advocate for the reunification of children and families. Before founding FOCWJ, she volunteered as a parent advocate at the Family Defense Center (FDC) as a leader in its Parent Empowerment Program and she has also served on FDC’s Board of Directors. Suzanne speaks nationally about the need for child welfare reform most recently spoke at the 2017 American Bar Association’s Parent Attorney’s conference and the 2016 Child Welfare Braintrust of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. She was recognized as a 2015 National Reunification Day Hero by the American Bar Association.

Suzanne holds multiple academic degrees including a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the graduate seminary of Trinity International University, a Master of Public Policy from the Harris School at The University of Chicago, a Master of Business Administration from DePaul University, a Bachelor of Science in Commerce from DePaul University, and an Associate of Arts from Harold Washington College.

Suzanne considers it her life’s work to advocate for families, with her advocacy being informed by her personal experiences in the child welfare system and with substance use disorder, as well as her professional experience as a child welfare reform professional. At every opportunity that she is given, she speaks out about child welfare reform advocacy and justice for families in the child welfare system. As founder and executive director of FOCWJ, her hope is to inspire others to become child welfare reform advocates, especially individuals and families with past or present child welfare system involvement.

Keynote Presentation: Dr. Nancy K. Young, Executive Director, Children and Family Futures
Topic: What Works: Supporting Families Affected by Substance Abuse Disorders

Access the video here


Dr. Nancy Young

Nancy YoungDr. Nancy K. Young is the Executive Director of Children and Family Futures (CFF), a California-based research and policy institute whose mission is to improve safety, permanency, well-being and recovery outcomes for children, parents and families affected by trauma, substance use and mental disorders. CFF operates a number of evaluation and technical assistance programs. Since 2002, she has served as the Director of the federally funded National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare and the Director of the Administration on Children and Families technical assistance program for the Regional Partnership Grants since 2007. In 2010, she began serving as the Director of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s technical assistance program for Family Drug Courts and the Statewide System Reform Program in 2014. She led the effort to create the foundation-funded Prevention and Family Recovery Program to implement evidence-based parenting and children’s intervention in family drug courts in 2013.

In addition, Dr. Young has been involved in numerous projects related to public policy analysis, strategic planning and program evaluation through her work with these programs and serving as a consultant to various states, counties, tribes, communities and foundations on behalf of the children, parents and families affected by substance use and mental disorders involved in the child welfare and judicial systems. Dr. Young is a graduate of California State University Fullerton and received her M.S.W. and her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, School of Social Work.


Parent Presentation: China Darrington (OH) and Amanda Williams Cruce (FL)
Birth and Foster Parent Partnership
Topic: Birth Parents and Foster Parents Partnering Together to Create Positive Changes in Policy and Practice

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China Darrington

ChinaChina Krys Darrington entered into a substance abuse recovery program in late 2003. She was already a single mother of a young daughter and she was pregnant with her second child. She was addicted to opiates, cocaine and prescription drugs for 15+ years. Recognizing how the addiction had begun to take its toll on her, she decided to make a serious change in her life. The baby she was carrying was born clean in April 2004 and she made an open adoption plan for her birth son. She reunited with her then five-year-old daughter in a two-year transitional housing project for moms in recovery called "Peachtree Estates". During those two years, she worked diligently to recover, learn what made her use drugs in the first place, and she also learned how to steer clear of the triggering influences that could drag her back into that life.

In the past ten years, she has become a homeowner, learned how to be a good parent and employee and started her own business providing recovery support services to other women and girls. Today she does advocacy work to help other families dealing with substance abuse issues and she also writes curricula and provides training for the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program (OCWTP). Through her work, she strives to help social workers, child welfare workers, addicts, families of addicts, drug courts, law enforcement and parole/probation officers better understand the complex dynamics of the family when the mom has a drug dependency issue.

China has been doing extensive public speaking and training throughout the state of Ohio since 2007. She talks about addiction, access to quality treatment, transitions to recovery housing, peer-based recovery, community-based recovery resources, re-entry options, drug/mental health courts, case management and supports to prevent child removals and facilitate reunification. In addition, she speaks on Human Trafficking issues as she herself was a victim of human trafficking when she was a young child. She’s the recipient of the 2014 Community Health Center’s “Leaf Of Life” award, 2015 OCWTP “Rising Star” award for best new trainer. 2016 ACE Award and most recently she was awarded the 2017 “Trainer of the Year” award in her home state of Ohio. She keynotes regularly including, at the 2015 Ohio Judicial Symposium on Addiction and Child Welfare. She has written several curricula for workshops including one on opiates/opioids which has become a mandatory training for all Franklin County Children Service workers.


Amanda Williams Cruce

AmandaAmanda Williams Cruce lives in Gainesville, Florida, where she is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has worked for 10 years in the child welfare system and has also been a foster parent for the past six years. Amanda has extensively worked in Florida to ensure all foster youth have equal rights. In addition, she as had a focus on caring and advocating for youth who identify as LGBTQ so they feel empowered and secure. At a national level, she has been involved in the areas of family empowerment, PL113-183 and LGBTQ rights. From her local, state and national work, Amanda brings much experience understanding how to navigate difficult conversations in a meaningful way for families, as well as speaking about the best practices and program implementation strategies that affect youth and families throughout the country.


Parent Presentation: Corey B. Best (FL) and Toni Miner (CO)
Birth Parent National Network
Topic: Building and Sustaining Strong Recovery Communities through Prevention Strategies

Access the video here


Corey B. Best

Corey BestCorey B. Best is a dedicated father to his amazing son, Corvin. Originally from Washington, DC, Corey now lives in Florida. This is where he began his transformation into leadership training, systems building, family engagement, race equity, promoting protective factors, social equality and strengthening families and communities. During his early 20’s, Corey struggled with addiction and parenting issues and became involved with the child welfare system. When he moved to Florida, Mr. Best got more involved with his community and began to understand and appreciate how valuable good supports and strong relationships could be for himself and for his family. Today he is a well-respected family advocate and consultant. He works tirelessly to build parent voice and strengthen partnerships between families and service providers.

Corey is commonly known as the leader that brings a combination of lived and professional experience in his organizing efforts in helping communities build their capacity to provide prevention strategies and to help reduce the numbers of children who enter the child welfare system. His innovative style and approach resulted in being awarded the 2016 Casey Family Programs Excellence for Children’s Award. Most recently, he spearheaded the Parent Partner Approach in his community. This work has allowed Corey to take leadership to the next level and he is involved with re-building systems that are responsive to family engagement and optimal child and family development in Florida communities and other states.

Corey is a certified trainer in the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Fund’s Bringing the Protective Factors to Life in Your Work. He is a Parent Leader Ambassador trainer and a host for Community Café conversations. He has also served as a technical assistance consultant for Georgetown University’s Adaptive Leadership team. Corey is a member of the Birth Parent National Network and the Casey Family Programs Birth Parent Advisory Committee. He also works as a Family Consultant for Capacity Building Center for States. He is a strong motivational speaker and is called upon to speak at numerous state and national conferences and other major events.


Toni Miner

Toni MinerToni Miner is a mother of three children and the legal guardian for her two grandchildren. She is a strong and well-respected family advocate in Jefferson County, Colorado. She has two daughters, ages 30 and 24, and a son who is 14 years of age. Her granddaughter is 13 years old and her grandson is 8 years old. Toni first became involved with the child welfare system due to the sexual abuse of her oldest daughter by someone who was highly trusted but not a member of the family. Ms. Miner struggled with drug addiction issues and during that period of her life, her two oldest children were in and out of placements with relatives and friends. During her initial experiences with the child welfare system, she felt that she “was being looked at as a bad person.” Later, she found it extremely helpful when she had an open case because she received the treatment and therapy that she needed and her caseworker really worked with her and “did not judge me.”

She became clean when she was pregnant with her youngest son so he was never involved with the child welfare system. She has been sober for more than over 15 years and continues to be actively involved in a recovery program. She now facilitates a Circle of Parents sober support group for parents in recovery. She is strongly committed to being a good parent and today all of her children are doing well.

She is currently employed as a Family Support Partner with Jefferson County Colorado Child and Youth Leadership Commission. She is working to develop a Parent Partner Program to provide peer support and mentoring to parents at risk or involved in the child welfare system. Prior to this, she worked as a Parent Partner for five years at Jefferson County Human Services. In addition to mentoring families, she provided training to caseworkers, Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers and kinship care providers. This has been a mutually beneficial experience for both the parents she works with as well as herself.

Toni has been active in various councils, committees and task forces at the local, state and national levels such as Child Welfare System Team Decision-Making meetings, Domestic Violence/Child Protection Services Coordinating Council, State IV-E Waiver Oversight Committee, Children’s Justice Act Task Force, Juvenile Justice Subcommittee, Human Trafficking Subcommittee and the Birth Parent National Network. She spoke at the State Capitol with the Governor for the roll out of the state’s new Child Protection hotline. Toni is a recipient of the 2016 Casey Excellence for Children Award.

What Parents Say About…Prevention Strategies that Work to Keep Families Together, Resilient and Strong.

BPNN Virtual Convening Co-Facilitators Michael Huesca (CA) and Shana King (MN)


Michael Huesca

Michael HuescaMichael Huesca is a single father who raised three children on his own. At the age of 25, he was blessed with the birth of his biological son Joshua. After the birth, his wife suffered from postpartum depression and mental illness, which dramatically changed their relationship. Michael was the victim of a domestic violence situation with his wife. This incident led to the involvement of the child welfare department. Following an nvestigation, it was determined that Michael was not a threat to the children and the case was never opened. His wife chose to voluntary leave the children in the care of Michael.

This experience had a major impact on Michael and he became a well-recognized father advocate throughout his community and state. He worked as a domestic violence counselor for over a decade and was an active member of the San Diego Domestic Violence Council. Michael is recognized as a state expert in dealing with male victims of domestic violence. He has served as a Domestic Violence Visitation Monitor Specialist through the California Association of Supervised Visitation Services.

Today Michael is the executive director of POPS (Paternal Opportunities Programs and Services), an advocacy organization that offers services and supports to fathers and families in need. He is actively involved in advocating for fathers who are trying to maintain relationships with their children or reunite with them. He is recognized for his ability to help build relationships between multiple systems and families. He conducts training for community-based organizations on fatherhood issues and how best to engage fathers with their families. He challenges fathers to be the father they desire to be and the hero their children need and love.

He is a board member of the United Advocates for Children and Families, a state nonprofit organization, that focuses on improving the quality of life for children and youth with mental health disorders. In California, Michael serves on the Prevention Subcommittee of the Child Welfare Council, a state appointed advisory body responsible for improving the collaboration and processes of the multiple agencies and the courts that serve the children in the California child welfare system.

Nationally, Michael serves on the Birth Parent National Network and the Casey Family Programs Birth Parent Advisory Committee. In 2015, Michael was the recipient of two major national awards. He received a Certificate of Excellence Award from the National Domestic Violence Council, and also a Father Champion Award from the National Fatherhood Coalition. In 2016, he was recognized by the American Bar Association as a Reunification Hero and in 2017, he received the Casey Family Programs Excellence for Children award.

Michael has played a major role in mentoring other parents and helping to expand the voices of parents, locally, statewide and on a national scale.


Shana King

Shana KingShana King is a Native American single parent and a well-respected parent mentor who resides in Plymouth Minnesota. She is an enrolled member of MHA Nation in North Dakota. She is actively involved in raising her two youngest children. Her daughter is now 19 years of age and resides on her own. Her 11-year-old son has a severe medical condition and requires 24- hour nursing care. As a young child, Ms. King grew up in a North Dakota community where her parents were active in the Tribal community. She was raised in a difficult home environment where abuse occurred. At age 14, she, was placed in foster care where she remained until 18 years of age. She recognizes that her choices in using opiates and dating partners who were abusive were an extension of her own upbringing. She understands now that the lack of emotional connection from her mother was a pattern familiar to many American Indian families who experience historical trauma.

As a parent herself, Ms. King became involved with the child welfare system due to opiate abuse and her two youngest children were placed in foster care. This was a turning point for her and she began to look at her future. She decided to enter inpatient treatment and over the next two years, she was successful in overcoming her drug addiction and completing her child welfare case plan. In 2011, she reunited with her two children. She attributes her strong connections to the Tribal community as helping her to get her children back. Today, she has been clean and sober for 9 years. She found smudging, a traditional American Indian practice that uses the burning of herbs to cleanse a room from negative energy, to help her with her healing process.

Ms. King is currently a Parent Mentor with the ICWA Law Center in Minneapolis and she provides support to American Indian families affected by the child protection system. Ms. King helped to create the Parent Mentor Program within the ICWA Law Center. Ms. King is actively involved in her community as a parent consultant for Minnesota Communities Caring for Children and as a board member for the American Indian Family Center in St. Paul. She volunteers with POW WOW for Hope, which provides cancer education and support for American Indians. She is the recipient of the 2016 Casey Excellence for Children Award.

Keynote Presentation: Robert Sege, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer, Health Resources in Actions
Topic: Balancing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) with HOPE: New Insights into the Role of Positive Experiences on Child and Family Development

Access the video here


Dr. Robert Sege

Bob SegeRobert Sege, MD, PhD is the Chief Medical Officer at Health Resources in Action, and directs The Medical Foundation there. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Social Policy and co-director of Community and Stakeholder Engagement for the Tufts University Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Dr. Sege is nationally known for his research on effective health systems approaches to the prevention of violence and abuse. He is a member of the boards of the Massachusetts Children’s Trust and Prevent Child Abuse America, and has served on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect. He is a graduate of Yale College, and received his PhD in Biology from MIT and his MD from Harvard Medical School. Bob lives in the Boston area, where he and his wife Karen have raised three young adult children.


Presentation: Let’s Talk about Preventing Child Neglect
Presented by: Martha Reeder, Senior Associate, National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds (Alliance) and Kara Georgi (NY), Co-Chair, Alliance National Parent Partnership Council

Access the video here


Martha Reeder

Martha ReederMartha Reeder is a Senior Associate with the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds. She serves as the Project Director and Editor for the Alliance’s Resources For Action series, including the popular Bringing the Protective Factors Framework to Life in Your Work online training and the in-person training of trainers. Martha is the Alliance liaison for the Alliance National Parent Partnership Council. She represents the Alliance on the Strengthening Families National Network of national partners and participates with the Children’s Bureau National Prevention Partners.

Before her work with the Alliance, Martha served as the Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Coordinator for the State of Arkansas. In this role, Martha helped develop the blueprint for Arkansas’ Quality Rating and Improvement System, Better Beginnings. Her passion to see the Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors Framework embedded into Better Beginnings led to a partnership with the Alliance to develop an online training in Arkansas helping to facilitate early care and education professionals to implement the Framework. This eventually led to what is now the Alliance’s popular online training Bringing the Protective Factors Framework to Life in Your Work and the expanding suite of training materials centered around its core content.


Kara Georgi

KaraKara Georgi lives in Auburn, New York with her precious two children and her encouraging husband. After several years of teaching Pre-K to grade 6, she stepped out of the full-time classroom to raise her children. Kara currently works under a federal grant as a parent education specialist for nine counties across Central New York helping families navigate the special education process. Prior to this she completed numerous Early Intervention Parent Trainings and New York State Partners in Policymaking to better educate herself about disability policy and how to share her testimony in a meaningful way. She also continues to raise awareness and support for families who have children with Sensory Processing Disorder.

In addition to her work, Kara continues to train and connect with communities about the Community Café approach and the protective factors. She has presented the last three years at the New York State Child abuse Conference on the power of conversations in the cafés and how to partner with parents. She serves on many committees and works to try to help find bridges between programs so that parents can gain skills as leaders in their communities. One of her favorite committees is ABC Cayuga, a local initaitive focused on children, birth to age 5. She works with them to support their social media content and to help create, establish and enhance the newly opened Play Space.

Kara also is an Alliance Certified Trainer for the in-person protective factors training. She has used the training in her home school district in work with the PTA , with hosting a school-wide Community Café with the staff and students and café nights for families. Currently, Kara is looking at ways she can bring it to her local police department. She is passoniate about the work and truly feels it is essential to see the value of the work in the everyday moments of everyone’s life. Kara has served for two years as the co-chair of the ANPPC and will continue in this role in the coming year.


Presentation: Strategic Messaging to Build a Prevention-Oriented Society
Presented by: Teresa Rafael, Executive Director, National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds and Victoria Hilt (WA), Co-Chair Elect, Alliance National Parent Partnership Council

Access the video here


Jim McKay

Teresa RafaelTeresa Rafael, has been Executive Director of the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds since 2002. She has more than 35 years of professional experience in the child abuse and neglect prevention field, ranging from working for eight years with child protective services, foster care and adoption in her early career to extensive work in the private, non-profit child abuse and neglect prevention field.

She previously served as executive director of two state-wide organizations and was vice-president of a national child abuse prevention organization. As Regional Vice President at Children’s Home Society of Washington, she was responsible for a $5,000,000 budget and programs such as residential treatment, adoption support, foster care, counseling and parenting education and support programs. To help bring a focus on prevention to this hundred year old organization, she led the development of numerous family support programs such as Family Resource Centers and home visiting programs and helped the agency begin to partner with parents in all aspects of the work. She was responsible for a $10,000,000 five-year Comprehensive Child Development Research Project funded through the US Head Start Bureau, which was the research basis for the current Early Head Start program. She later served as a consultant for numerous state and national organizations. She has extensive experience providing training on multiple topics and facilitating groups. Throughout her career, she has worked in partnership with professional colleagues and parent leaders. She holds undergraduate degrees in Social Work and Sociology, completed one year of independent study at Stanford University and earned a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Washington with an emphasis on social service administration and organizational development.


Victoria Hilt

Victoria HiltVictoria Hilt resides in Bremerton, Washington with her six-year-old daughter, Lisa. When Victoria served as the secretary for the Head Start Policy Council and, ultimately, as the chairperson, she discovered that she has leadership qualities. Victoria also serves her community through her activities as a member of the Board of Directors for Kitsap Community Resources, a local community action agency; as president of the Kitsap Early Learning Alumni Association (KELAA), which provides mentorship to developing parent leaders; and as a co-leader of her daughter’s Girl Scout Troop.

Victoria is a Parent Ambassador Alumni with the Washington State Association of Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (WSA). In 2013, she received WSA’s State Parent of the Year Award for her advocacy around the sequestration and subsequent government shutdown. Her activities involved speaking at a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Because of her speech, a donation was made to Head Start that helped several programs stay in business.

In 2013, Victoria was honored by the Department of Early Learning’s (DEL) Strengthening Families Washington “Unsung Hero Award.” She continues to partner with DEL, and currently is working to update the state’s Health, Safety and Development regulations for the licensing of child care programs. In 2016, Victoria was chosen by the Mayor of the City of Bremerton to serve on the Board of Commissioners for the Bremerton Housing Authority. She was recently selected to become vice-president of the Board.

Victoria views her role as a mother to be the most important of all of her roles. When she discovered that her daughter had a little sister who was in foster care, Victoria advocated for the child to be placed with her biological father. She became a “partner parent” to aid in the transition, which includes developing a co-parenting plan and a routine that includes the younger sister between both homes.

Victoria became an Alliance Certified Trainer for the in-person protective factors training in 2017. Her goal is to become involved in the writing of public policy that will aid in building stronger families. She is attending school to finish her degree in Public Policy and Administration. Meanwhile, she works closely with the Alliance’s Public Policy Committee and reports to the ANPPC on any pertinent matters. Victoria has been named as co-chair elect for the ANPPC and will assume this role in the Fall 2018.

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