Virtual Expo Session Presenters
Anita Barbee, University of Louisville
Dr. Anita Barbee is professor and Distinguished University Scholar at the Kent School of Social Work, University of Louisville. She has worked in the field of child welfare for the past 27 years, serving on the Medically Fragile Team in Jefferson County, where she was able to work cases from investigations through adoption. Her focus as a child welfare researcher is on improving child welfare organizational culture, climate, processes, and practices to enhance the competency and perceived support of the child welfare workforce so that they have the skills, cultural competency, and emotional energy to devote to the families, children, youth and communities they serve. She has many years of experience across a number of states developing, conducting, and evaluating new worker, veteran worker, and supervisor training; developing and evaluating a training reinforcement model; and installing child welfare casework practice models using implementation science and evaluating the impact of those practice models on child and family outcomes. Currently she is the lead evaluator on the Children's Bureau Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development (QIC-WD), which is working with 8 jurisdictions (1 tribe, 1 county, 2 county/locally administered systems, and 4 state administered systems) to test the impact of 8 different workforce interventions in hopes that these will lower staff turnover and improve work with families and outcomes for children.
Jennifer Benefiel, Capacity Building Center for States
Jennifer Benefiel is an Implementation Specialist with the Capacity Building Center for States where she provides consultation, training and coaching in the areas of readiness; problem exploration and root cause analysis; theory of change development; intervention selection, adaptation and design; and organizational capacity building. She also provides consultation to states in the areas of data-driven decision making, change management, and system improvement. Ms. Benefiel has 14 years of experience in child welfare. She started her work in child welfare as a frontline worker, gaining knowledge and understanding of the complex issues impacting families served by the child welfare system. Ms. Benefiel has held multiple leadership positions, including most recently serving as the programs administrator for permanency planning, well-being, independent living, quality assurance, continuous quality improvement, and CFSR in the state of Oklahoma; and currently as an implementation specialist with the Capacity Building Center for States. In her role as programs administrator, Ms. Benefiel utilized implementation science to lead Oklahoma through the process of analyzing and assessing needs, developing theories of change, developing and implementing improvement strategies, and evaluating and applying findings. Ms. Benefiel’s major work accomplishments include the development and implementation of multiple improvement strategies to increase performance in outcome measures negotiated as part of Oklahoma’s settlement agree and consent decree; leading Round 3 CFSRs and successfully negotiating Oklahoma’s Performance Improvement Plan; development and implementation of Oklahoma’s Permanency Safety Consultation process and fidelity review; development and implementation of Oklahoma’s Permanency Expediter program; and facilitation and creation of Oklahoma’s supervision framework in collaboration with the Capacity Building Center for States.
Dee Bonnick, Capacity Building Center for States
Dee Bonnick has been a parent consultant in child welfare in her home state of Connecticut and has provided feedback and input from the family perspective to improve practice in the child welfare system for over 10 years. She has participated in several implementation projects and provided input that encouraged continued engagement and partnership with families and overall improvement of the child welfare system. Some of this work included facilitating family forums, assisting in drafting parent and staff surveys, and piloting and collecting data for Parent Partner Programs. Ms. Bonnick also served on several projects implementing Differential Response systems, the Strengthening Families Practice Model, and Structured Decision Making. She has provided feedback on policy and practice, serving on steering committees representing the parent voice, assisting with collecting training data, and evaluating proposals for child welfare agency contracts. Ms. Bonnick is currently on the Center Tailored Services team supporting implementation of the relative care project in New Mexico and recruitment and retention of foster parents in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Jerry Bruce, Georgia Court Improvement Program
Jerry Bruce has been a parent attorney, guardian ad litem, prosecuting attorney, delinquency and adult defender, Special Assistant Attorney General representing Georgia’s child welfare agency, and a Juvenile Court Judge – essentially every job an attorney can do in Georgia’s juvenile courts. He is a regular guest lecturer for the Barton Center for Child Welfare Law at Emory Law School. He is currently involved in child welfare practice, law, and policy work as the Director of the Court Improvement Project for the Georgia Supreme Court Committee on Justice for Children, and regularly speaks, writes, and teaches on child welfare issues.
Amanda Cruce, Capacity Building Center for States
Amanda Cruce serves as a consultant at the Center for States. She is also an active member of the Birth and Foster Parent Partnership/QPI partnership, where she has presented on the importance of building strong partnerships between birth parents and foster parents. At the national level, Ms. Cruce has been involved in the areas of family empowerment, PL113-183 (normalcy), and LGBTQ rights. Ms. Cruce holds a wealth of child welfare experience, focusing on encouraging communication and counseling families through difficult periods. She also understands the importance of educating others, particularly in the practices and program implementation strategies that affect youth and families throughout the country, and works at the local, state, and national level to ensure that parent voice and parent partnership are at the center of state plans and that all parties are at the table. Ms. Cruce and her wife Deena have been fostering and adopting for the last 8 years in Gainesville, FL. During this time, she has focused on caring and advocating for youth who identify as LGBTQ so they feel empowered and secure.
Sylvia Deporto, County of San Francisco, California (retired)
Sylvia Deporto is a California native, spending most of her life in the Southern California area. Ms. Deporto attended the University of California at Riverside where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, followed by the California State University at San Bernardino where she received her Masters’ degree in Counseling and Education. She began her child welfare career as a caseworker in El Paso County, Colorado, then moved on to do casework for Home- and Community-Based Services, a program that provided services to elderly, blind, and disabled adults as an alternative to nursing home care. Ms. Deporto then returned to California and worked with developmentally delayed children (ages 0-5) and their families through the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. She then returned to her first love, child welfare, working for Riverside County Children’s Services for 21 years where she began as a caseworker and held positions as a supervisor, trainer, manager, deputy director and assistant director. After five years as the assistant director for Riverside County Child Welfare, Ms. Deporto moved to the San Francisco Bay area to be the Director of Child Welfare in the city/county of San Francisco where she spent a little over five years. Having retired last August, Ms. Deporto is now a consultant and trainer with a focus on the areas of leadership development and coaching, and provides training and consulting on the Indian Child Welfare Act.
Melinda Feola-Mahar, Capacity Building Center for States
Melinda Feola-Mahar has a diverse background in community health, including community reintegration strategies with adults with developmental disabilities and chronic mental illness, mental health services, substance misuse prevention programs, nursing home diversion, Medicaid waiver programs, and curriculum writing. She is a skilled facilitator working with clinical teams, community collaborative groups, and statewide implementation teams. In addition, Ms. Feola-Mahar has 17 years of experience in child welfare as a foster parent, adoptive parent, trainer, consultant, and coach. Her passion is supporting family engagement in all its forms and at all levels of child welfare and helping to build healthy, cooperative relationships between parents and resource parents toward a shared goal of reunification.
Margo Fudge, Child Welfare Services, County of San Diego, California
Margo Fudge currently serves as the Acting Deputy Director for Child Welfare Services with the County of San Diego with oversight of several key areas, including policy, technology, contracts and continuous quality improvement. Ms. Fudge has worked in the field of child welfare for over 20 years in a variety of programs and settings. Most recently, she oversaw the Adoptions and Foster and Adoptive Resources Family Services program. Ms. Fudge has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and a Master’s of Social Work from San Diego State University School of Social Work. During her time with the County of San Diego, Ms. Fudge has worked and supervised numerous programs, including emergency response, court intervention, continuing services, training, as well as the development of quality assurance supervision. In addition to her work in the public child welfare sector, Ms. Fudge has worked in both the hospital and home health settings. She also has developed and implemented the Camp Connect program, which has received state and national recognition as a model for private and public partnership, achieving great outcomes for separated siblings. Additionally, Ms. Fudge previously served as the executive assistant to the Child Welfare Services director from 2008 to 2012, where she oversaw the San Pasqual Academy, Office of the Ombudsman and was the Child Welfare Services media specialist. During her time as the Adoptions Program Manager, Ms. Fudge achieved significant program redesign, reducing the overall number of children in the program, implemented technological advances, and streamlined case flow. Recently, Ms. Fudge participated in a national podcast highlighting recruitment efforts of caregivers in addition to providing leadership to the Quality Parenting Initiative to strengthen and support relationships with caregivers. As the Child Welfare Services Diversity and Inclusion champion, she is particularly passionate about issues around inclusion and disproportionality within the child welfare system. Ms. Fudge has also trained on various topics including trauma and the importance of sibling relationships. Most recently, Ms. Fudge directed efforts to reduce the number of longstayers active to the adoptions program by over 50%.
Louie Gasper, Capacity Building Center for States
Originally from Northern California and currently residing in Washington, D.C., Louie Gasper works as a news writing fellow for the Independent Journal Review. Additionally, Mr. Gasper is pursuing a political communication degree from the Evergreen State College, where he is a junior. He anticipates continuing to study the intersection of communications and public policy throughout graduate school. Mr. Gasper has worked on reforming the child welfare system since he was 13 years old, collaborating and leading projects ranging from the local to the international levels with various organizations, including California Youth Connection, the Mockingbird Society, FosterClub, the National Foster Youth Institute, and the International Foster Care Alliance. Within these organizations, Mr. Gasper has served as a chapter president/leader, chairman of statewide policy, legislative committee representative, programs and policy intern, “all-star” intern, advisory board co-chair, conference facilitator, and youth trainer. In the scope of his work, he has participated in projects focused on relationship building, group home reform, youth advocacy, housing/homelessness, LGBTQIA rights, race relations, social worker and foster parent accountability, permanency, mental health, sexual and physical abuse and trauma, and systems reform among child welfare. As an agent of change, Mr. Gasper consistently looks for opportunities to employ strategic planning processes that offer clear, mission-based solutions. Furthermore, his interdisciplinary concentrations on public policy, legislation, writing, media, and communications help to enhance his work by offering a unique approach to solutions addressing child welfare reform.
Rebecca Jones Gaston, Maryland Department of Human Resources
Rebecca Jones Gaston is the Executive Director of the Social Services Administration with the Maryland Department of Human Services, where she oversees child welfare and adult services and monitors goals, outcomes, and performance measures for 24 local and county departments across the state. Ms. Gaston provides strategic vision and guidance for transforming Maryland’s social service system through Families Blossom Place Matters, which encompasses a title IV-E waiver project, preparation for the upcoming implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018, and work to strengthen adult services to meet the needs of a rapidly aging population. Ms. Gaston has worked in the human services and child welfare field for more than 22 years as a social worker, advocate, therapist, consultant, and administrator. Previously, Ms. Gaston was a director with Casey Family Programs, where she provided technical assistance to child welfare agencies throughout the United States. From 2003 to 2007, Ms. Gaston served as the National Campaign Director for AdoptUSKids, a collaboration between the National Ad Council and the Children’s Bureau, to build a major campaign aimed at increasing the numbers of foster and adoptive families. Ms. Gaston has specialized knowledge of and experience with change management approaches and the implementation of successful evidence-based programs, including title IV-E waivers. She also has extensive experience with community engagement, parent and family support, and mental health programs, as well as experience achieving reunification and/or permanency for children in foster care. Ms. Gaston has worked throughout her career to successfully leverage internal and external resources for promoting child and family safety, permanency, and well-being and reducing the number of youth in residential, out-of-home care. Ms. Gaston is a long-time resident of Maryland and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Georgetown University and a master of social work degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
Michaela Guthrie, Capacity Building Center for States
Michaela Guthrie is a licensed professional social worker, and currently serves as the Program Executive for Crossroads Foster Care and Adoption with Christian City Inc., in Atlanta, Georgia, a program that she developed and launched in February 2018. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Ms. Guthrie received her Bachelor’s degree and Master of Social Work from the University of Alabama. She has experience serving survivors of sexual exploitation, survivors of interpersonal violence including sexual assault, rape, and dating/domestic violence. Ms. Guthrie has also worked with juvenile sex offenders and served as a family visitation supervisor. In addition to her job roles, Ms. Guthrie has participated in many panel discussions on child welfare-related topics. She has led various trainings on topics including partnership parenting, signs and symptoms of abuse/neglect, permanency, birth family connections, the impact of trauma on child development, grief and loss, mental health needs of children, sexual abuse, sexuality and exploitation, behavior management, transcultural parenting, and more. Ms. Guthrie loves serving others, and as a former foster youth of 8 years, she is thankful that she can provide love to other children and families in need, as well as be a resource to individuals wishing to add to their heart and home through foster care and/or adoption!