The Power of Relationships in Advancing Child and Family Well-Being: Lessons from Rural Communities

June 20 and June 22, 2023
1:00 pm – 4:30 pm ET

CWLA invites urban and rural providers to join us for a special virtual summit that will share strategies for community collaboration. Many rural child- and family-serving agencies have innovative approaches to partnering with community-based organizations to bring holistic services to families. This summit will provide an opportunity for urban providers to hear directly from national rural leaders about methods for working with local organizations, outside of child welfare, and how these lessons can be applied to their own communities. Each day will end with a dialogue session for shared learning with peers.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2023
(Eastern Time)

Opening: 1:00 pm – 1:45 pm

Practice Panel: 1:45 pm – 3:25 pm

Break: 3:25 pm – 3:45 pm

Discussion Session: 3:45 pm – 4:30 pm

Thursday, June 22, 2023
(Eastern Time)

Opening: 1:00 pm – 1:15 pm

Community Collaboration Panel: 1:15 pm – 2:15 pm

Policy Panel: 2:15 pm – 3:30 pm

Discussion & Closing: 3:30 pm – 4:30 pm


This summit will be hosted in partnership with CWLA’s Rural Child Welfare Services Committee
and Committee Co-Chairs:  Carl Ayers and Kathleen Belanger.

Carl Ayers is the Deputy Commissioner of Human Services for the Virginia Department of Social Services. He rejoined the Department after 2 ½ years with Casey Family Programs (CFP) as a Sr. Director of Strategic Consulting. In his current role, he oversees the Division of Family Services, the Division of Benefit Program, Local Engagement and Support, Training and Continuous Quality Improvement. Prior to joining the Virginia Department of Social Services, Carl held a number of positions with local departments of social services. The majority of Carl’s direct practice was focused in the rural Southwest part of Virginia and he has carried that rural focus in his statewide leadership positions. He currently serves as a board member for the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). Carl holds a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from Radford University and is a graduate of the Virginia Executive Institute as well as the Commonwealth Management Institute.

Kathleen Belanger, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Social Work at Stephen F. Austin State University and an elected councilperson in Nacogdoches, TX. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Houston and her MSW from UT Austin with a concentration in Community Organizing and Social Administration, and has been working with communities ever since. She has been teaching community practice for 30 years, with a focus and strength- and asset-based approaches. As a consultant with the National Resource Center for Diligent Recruitment, she spent 6 years providing intensive and ongoing help to states, tribes, and jurisdictions on collaborative foster and adoptive parent recruitment, retention, and development (particularly identifying and supporting rural families who are underrepresented). She served on the National Advisory Committee for Rural Health and Human Services for 4 years, authored or co-edited 3 books, and is a recipient of the Distinguished Professor award from SFASU and the Champion for Children award from CWLA.

Practice Panel

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

1:45 pm – 3:25 pm

Pamela Bennett is the Division Director of South Dakota Child Protection Services under the South Dakota Department of Social Services. She has worked in the child welfare field for over 35 years. Pamela was part of the team that designed and implemented the safety model within South Dakota. After South Dakota’s successful implementation of the safety model, Pamela worked as a consultant for Action for Child Protection and the National Resource Center for Child Protection Services for 10 years providing technical assistance to the federal government, state, tribal, and county child welfare agencies. Pamela returned to SD CPS when she was appointed as the Deputy Director of CPS in February of 2018. Pamela was appointed Division Director of SD CPS in July of 2020. Pamela resides in Pierre, SD with her son and two extremely spoiled Standard Schnauzers.

Bobbi Johnson is the Associate Director of Child Welfare Services for the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) within the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. She obtained her Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Maine at Orono and is a Licensed Master Social Worker. Bobbi has worked for OCFS for 27 years. Bobbi has experience with community building at both the local and statewide levels, and has been instrumental in moving the work of child welfare from an agency responsibility to the shared responsibility of families, OCFS, and community partners. She has been active on several committees, including the Maine Child Welfare Advisory Panel, the Child Death and Serious Injury Review Panel, and the Domestic Violence Homicide Review Panel. These efforts bring together partners statewide and are focused on improving the system of care, maximizing resources, and promoting the voices of the individuals we serve.

Darla Biel, MA, CFRE, is the Interim Director at the South Dakota Center for the Prevention of Child Maltreatment at the University of South Dakota’s School of Health Sciences. She serves as the SD Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Lead, convening an interagency advisory board and community partners to build a shared vision and plan for ensuring a strong start for all South Dakota children. Biel is also project lead for Resilient Communities, a community-led initiative that increases collective capacity to know about, respond to, and prevent child abuse. Biel holds degrees from Bethany College, Iowa State University, and Pacific University, as well as graduate certificates in Child & Adult Advocacy Studies (USD) and Certified Fund Raising Management (Indiana University). She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in adult learning and administration in higher education from the University of South Dakota.

Community Collaboration Panel

Thursday, June 22, 2023

1:15 pm – 2:15 pm

Amy Stetzel is the Upper Midwest-Minnesota Director for the Corporation for Supportive Housing. Amy has held previous positions as the Director of Implementation and Community Engagement at the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness, and as a Senior Policy and Program Analyst for the New York City Department of Homelessness and the New York City Administration for Children’s Services. Amy holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work and Social Policy from Columbia University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Women’s Studies from St. Olaf College.

Susan Montague began her experience working in the Behavior Health field at the Camarillo State Hospital in Camarillo California as summer jobs in 1977 and 1978. Following graduation in 1979, she began a 44-year experience as an employee at SFCS. She has been committed to helping people who struggle with substance use. At Saint Francis Ministries, she developed the outpatient teen substance use program and the pregnant women’s program for the Family Preservation Program. Her commitment to women’s substance use treatment led to her working part-time for the Ashby House, which provides gender specific treatment for women, while continuing her work at Saint Francis Ministries. Her passions include working with children with special needs and children diagnosed with fetal alcohol system disorder. The driving force behind her work is assisting children to reach their potential and helping parents to feel a sense of success with their parenting.

Kim Magoon is an Evaluation Supervisor for Public Consulting Group, specializing in child welfare and public health evaluation. Ms. Magoon has led and participated in multiple program evaluations for evidence-based services in child welfare, as well as multiple workload studies and business process redesign projects for state-level agencies. She has also worked extensively on Title IV-E waiver and Family First program evaluations for Arkansas and Maine. In addition to staff supervision and project management, Ms. Magoon has designed trainings and presented for New England Prevention Technology Transfer Center, American Public Health Association, National Prevention Network, and at Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Prevention Day and Child Welfare League of America Conferences. Ms. Magoon holds a Master’s degree in Sociology from North Carolina State University and a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Juvenile/Family Justice from Thiel College.


Policy Panel

Thursday, June 22, 2023

2:15 pm – 3:30 pm ET

Dionne Bronson is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), and has fulfilled the role of ICWA Caseworker and currently serves as the Family Engagement Program Manager. She has been with the CTUIR Department of Children and Family Services since 2019. She has experience working with young children and their families through the Tribes Head Start and Family Literacy programs. Her role as Family Engagement Program Manager provides her the opportunity to design and implement services as part of the village supporting the healing and transcendence of Tribal members and community through education, exploration, and support.

Kimberly Ayers has been the Director of Wythe County Department of Social Services in Southwestern Virginia since 2018. Prior to serving as Wythe County’s Director, she was Director of Bland County (VA) Department of Social Services from 2010 to 2018. In her current role, she oversees the locality’s administration of benefits and services programs, including SNAP, Medicaid, TANF, Title IV-E, Child Protective Services, In-home Prevention Services, Adult Protective Services, Foster Care, and Adoptions. Kimberly is a former Child Protective Services worker in the Virginia system. In addition to her work within Virginia’s Department of Social Services system, Kimberly has worked in the Virginia public schools as a School Social Worker/Visiting Teacher and in the community mental health system as a Crisis Prescreener. She also worked several years for Children’s Home Society of West Virginia as an in-home services worker and Right From the Start Coordinator, working with low-birth score infants and high-risk pregnant women in rural West Virginia.

Jocelyn Batko Richgels, MPP, is the Director of National Policy Programs for the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI). She joined RUPRI in September 2004 as the Associate Director of National Policy Programs. Richgels ensures that our nation’s policymakers access and utilize the research and practice conducted by RUPRI centers as they consider legislation that affects rural America. She participates on RUPRI’s Health Policy Panel and tracks national agriculture legislation. Richgels was born and raised on a family farm in rural southwest Wisconsin and her first-hand understanding of rural America stems from this experience. She has extensive public policy experience, beginning her career as staff to a Member of Congress from Minnesota, who represented one the most rural Congressional districts in the country at the time. Richgels earned a Masters of Public Policy (MPP) from the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland – College Park.