About the Award

The Child Welfare Exemplary Service Award was developed in early 2015 by the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW) in order to recognize Minnesota child welfare supervisors and front-line workers in public, tribal, and private child-serving agencies for exemplary service to children and families. CASCW selects the award recipient using a nomination process. Any worker or supervisor who meets the nomination criteria may be nominated for the award.

Outstanding nominees will demonstrate a commitment to engaging families, engagement in strengths-based work with families, a focus on reducing disparities in the child welfare system, and utilization of research-supported practice.

Past Exemplary Service Award Recipients

Jodi Heurung2016 Recipient
Jodi has over 18 years of experience in the field of child welfare. Jodi is a Lead Social Services Supervisor at Sherburne County. As supervisor, Jodi has oversight of Child Protection, Child Welfare and Children’s Mental Health services within Sherburne County Health Human Services. Jodi’s approach with families is to meet them where they are at, listen to what they have to say and then respectfully answer and address their concerns. Jodi remains curious and energetic in her work, thereby providing all the families we come in contact with the opportunity to heal and recover safety and stability. Jodi has encouraged staff to be trained in and to utilize Signs of Safety practices, along with other engagement strategies, so that her staff are able to engage with families more effectively. She is willing to take chances that some other agencies may not be willing to do, to give families space to prove they can keep their children safe. Jodi has been instrumental in arranging for AMBIT trauma-informed training and the pilot to help incorporate trauma-focused practices in Minnesota. She is a member of the AMBIT Leadership Team in Central Minnesota. Jodi monitors all out of home placements for the agency and is the chair of the Pre-Placement Review Team in Sherburne County. She created the policy for the team and has helped to reduce unnecessary out of home placements. Jodi is the Health & Human Services representative for the Sherburne County Children’s Justice Initiative (CJI) team and is an active participant in those meetings. Jodi is a natural born leader who earns the respect of those she supervises. She will pitch in when a worker is swamped and do hands-on tasks to help the worker through the crisis.
Mark Wilhelmson2015 Recipient
Mark Wilhelmson is a supervisor in the Child Protection Intake Unit at St. Louis County. Mark assisted in the creation of St. Louis County’s Indian Child Welfare Unit, creating an alliance with local tribal authorities and served as the unit’s first supervisor. Mark later became supervisor of the Initial Intervention Unit (IIU), monitoring the assessment and investigation of child maltreatment reports. Mark’s involvement on the Multi-disciplinary team of the First Witness Child Advocacy Center promotes the well-being of families whose children have experiences sexual abuse. Mark has impacted thousands of parents, children, and staff with his grounded and ethical guidance.
Michelle Lesley2016 Recipient
Michelle has over 27 years of experience as a social worker at Hennepin County. She is a Senior Social Worker at Hennepin County and is a Coordinator in the Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) Unit. Michelle has worked in the areas of
Developmental Disabilities, Parent Support Project, Children’s Mental Health, and the last 6 years as a FGDM facilitator. In this capacity she applies FGDM values to work with families and youth in developing safe and stable connections in order to build capacity in youth, and to assist families and children in achieving desired outcomes. The values of FGDM are at the heart of Michelle’s social work practice, and they inspire the way that she works with vulnerable children and families. Michelle has committed herself to improving the overall delivery of service by helping to prepare colleagues for the difficult but rewarding practice of child welfare work. Michelle has worked with the Minnesota DHS Child Welfare Training System as a trainer and curriculum writer. She has helped pioneer new methods in attending to child safety through improving family well-being rather than accepting the view that child safety can be achieved only apart from family. Michelle’s career as a social worker has also been marked by lifelong commitment to learning bout new developments in the field, scouring the research and adopting best practices that have emerged from evidence. Michelle pays close attention to cultural difference, and strives to engage cultural influences to support families.
Heather Rosenthal2015 Recipient
Heather Rosenthal is a licensed social worker with Otter Tail County Human Services. She has worked as a child protection investigator for the past 13 years. She also helps facilitate the independent living skills groups for youth aging out of foster care for Otter Tail County. She facilitates multiple multi-disciplinary child protection teams. She also is involved in her community including being involved in her church and servicing on the Ottertail City Council for the past 7 years. Heather enjoys her job and working with various community agencies including law enforcement and probation to assist her clients with the services they need to address the safety needs of their children.