Court Improvement Project Recognizes Great Work with 2019 Children’s Summit Awards

Court Improvement Project Recognizes Great Work with 2019 Children’s Summit Awards

Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Judge Teske
Team accepting award
Steel presenting award
Tammi Fleming
Heavican introducing Kelly and Milner

The Court Improvement Project (CIP) held its tri-annual Children’s Summit on September 11-12, 2019, in Kearney.

During the conference, CIP presented annual awards for judicial excellence, youth/family resiliency and Through the Eyes of the Child team excellence.


Award for Judicial Leadership

Judge Burns

Judge Michael P. Burns was awarded the Michael Offner Memorial Award for Judicial Leadership, created in memory of the Honorable Michael Offner, 10th judicial district judge from 2001-2014. Judge Offner’s widow, Jan Offner was in attendance at the awards ceremony and commented on the selection of Judge Burns, “I am touched that Judge Burns will receive the award this year. My Mike and Judge Burns were very close, so for me it is extra special for Judge Burns to be the recipient this year.” Judge Offner was honored for judicial system improvement by the Nebraska Supreme Court, and instrumental in establishing National Adoption Day in his district in 2005. Judge Offner’s advocacy for youth is the basis of the award, which highlights juvenile court judicial leadership. In her nomination, RuAnn Root wrote, “Judge Burns is the kind of judge that most courts only dream of having. I have had the personal privilege of working with both Judge Offner and Judge Burns. I can tell you that both of these men took an individualized look at the families that were before them and often times thought outside of the box in order to best meet their needs.”


Resilience Award

Phelps award

The 2019 Resilience Award, which celebrates a youth or family involved with either the child welfare or juvenile justice system, who has shown resilience and determination in overcoming difficult obstacles, was awarded to Lakeisha Phelps. Margaret Vacek’s nomination of Ms. Phelps stated, “I would like to nominate Lakeisha for the resilience award because she is a person who has overcome so many personal obstacles and has risen above her own personal challenges to become a strong, resilient adult that inspires so many. She has touched the lives of so many young adults and shown them how to overcome challenges, fears and become strong and independent.  Lakeisha is known as a survivor, overcoming complex challenges of the foster care system, the juvenile justice system and the adult corrections system. The girl has grit!” One of many notable obstacles Lakeisha encountered was that as a youth she experienced 80 different placements. Lakeisha is currently the Director of Youth Services at Nebraska Family Support Network (NFSN) and also a Youth Advocate.


Though the Eyes of the Child Team Award for Excellence

Team winner

The final award, The Though the Eyes of the Child Team Award for Excellence, was awarded to Team 11.3, representing Furnas, Hayes, Hitchcock, and Red Willow counties. Judge Anne Paine and a few of the team’s members accepted the award on behalf of the entire team. The team created a subcommittee that met and decided on a curriculum to follow and present to the 7th grade class at McCook Junior High School. The students were bused to the courthouse where they initially met with Judge Paine in the courtroom and were given a brief description of what can possibly happen in court for a juvenile. Lindsay McConville, MS, CPC, LIMHP, of Ambience Counseling, then provided a discussion on appropriate boundaries. She provided information on boundaries and relationships, healthy vs. unhealthy, and gave tips on how to deal with unhealthy relationships. They also developed a campaign for kindness that involved the kids and “kindness” coupons, the students were to give a coupon to someone they witnessed being kind. Nominator Linda Smith stated, “One of the students "got it" right off the bat by asking if she had to keep a coupon given to her or if she could pass it on to someone else she witnessed being kind. Kindness can be taught!”

Another nomination for Team 11.3, from Katherine Andrews, described Judge Paine’s role, “[t]his past year, Judge Paine has worked with numerous youth through the court system, as well as openly working with several school districts to volunteer her time for community prosperity. Due to her collaboration and constant passion for youth care, Judge Paine has organized countless programs in various degrees to promote the wellness of the youth in the community. I truly cannot think of a more deserving person for the Team Award for Excellence.”


600 Attendees with 60 Breakouts and 10 Tracks

This year’s CIP Children’s Summit was an enormous success with nearly 600 attendees and approximately 60 breakout sessions, covering topics in ten tracks of interest. Commissioner Jerry Milner, D.S.W, and David Kelly, J.D., M.A., opened the Summit Wednesday morning with their joint keynote entitled “Strengthening Families through Primary Prevention and the Role of the Courts.”

Dr. Tammi Fleming, a senior associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, delivered Wednesday’s luncheon keynote “Moving Out of the Deep End” addressing how youth and family voice and community and systems partnerships can help us turn from deep end involvement to community-based services to improve outcomes for all of Nebraska’s youth.

Judge Steven Teske closed the two day affair on Thursday afternoon with an extremely engaging and animated keynote address, “When Did Making Adults Mad Become a Crime?: How to Keep Kids in School, Out of Court.”

The CIP team also introduced a new mobile app for the conference that allowed conference-goers access to all conference materials: agendas, biographies, breakout materials, and session evaluations - as well as real time updates and notifications - on their phone or tablet. The mobile app greatly decreased the amount of paper and copies required for the 600 attendees.