The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities recently awarded the 2019 Samuel Gerson Nordlinger Child Welfare Leadership Award to Paula Graves, child welfare supervisor at FamilyCore in Peoria, Illinois. She has worked at FamilyCore for more than five years and dedicated over 39 years to child welfare service in Illinois.

Graves was chosen for the award for her exceptional contributions to the advancement of quality services for children and families. This award, which honors the memory of Col. Samuel Gerson Nordlinger, was established by his wife Sarah Haines Nordlinger and their family.

Graves’ child welfare journey began in Peoria, Illinois, as a case worker at Lutheran Social Services. From there, she developed knowledge and skills in the various areas of child welfare. She became the statewide adoption coordinator for Metra Chicago, was a program director in Galesburg and later the region, moved up to be a clinical coordinator of resources at Children’s Home in Peoria, and then arrived at FamilyCore. In addition, Graves has also participated in various committees for advocacy of permanency for children and coordinated volunteers for the local Community Foundation.

She is a strong advocate of what is in the best interests of a child, his or her siblings, and how decisions will impact the needs of the child. Graves improves outcomes for families in both return home cases and adoption cases by making client engagement a top priority. She explores all possible options and thinks outside of the box in order to make it possible for clients to meet their goals. Graves focuses on permanency for children and supervises her workers in a manner that assists them in moving cases towards permanency as quickly as possible.

“Paula demonstrates what an exceptional leader is by being present, championing diversity, always being willing to listen and to teach, and going above and beyond to meet the needs of children and families,” said Ann Lading-Ferguson, CEO of FamilyCore. Graves works to pass on her skills and passion for supporting children by educating and inspiring the next generation of child welfare workers. She is an exceptional team builder and ensures new caseworkers feel welcomed and ready to contribute. Recognizing the importance of self-care and connections among staff, she makes sure to check in on new and seasoned co-workers daily. 

This award was given as part of the 2019 Alliance National Conference, held Oct. 16-18 in Indianapolis.