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In 2011, Commissioner Allison Blake, PhD, LSW established the Commissioner's Partnership Award  to provide recognition of the significant contributions made by community partners - every day heroes - across the state, who through their selfless commitment, hard work, and dedication help build strong children and families, improve the lives of others, and strengthen communities. Her vision was to express appreciation for how fortunate DCF is to have so many committed partners who help us accomplish our mission and advance our work every day. 

Based on the premise that in order for our practice change efforts to continue and be sustainable, DCF must be committed to collaborating with stakeholders and community partners to improve outcomes for every individual we serve, the Commissioner's Partnership Award has continued to honor community leaders in New Jersey who have partnered with the Department of Children and Families in an effort to ensure a better today and even a greater tomorrow for every individual we serve.  The New Jersey Department of Children and Families would like to thank all of our community partners who have and continue to play an important role in ensuring the safety, well-being, and success of New Jersey's children, women, and families.

If you know someone who is a candidate for consideration, please visit to make a nomination.  After all, the criteria are simple: a role model who is caring and has partnered with DCF in a significant way, impacting the lives of the children and families we serve and who is worthy of recognition.


2017 Commissioner's Partnership Award Recipients

Detective Paul Vanaman, New Jersey State Human Services Police
Detective Paul Vanaman has worked in law enforcement since 1992. He is currently employed by New Jersey State Human Services Police as a Detective and has been assigned to the FBI Innocence Lost Task Force, since 2012, participating in the detection, investigation, arrest, and prosecution of Human Trafficking offenders both within and outside the State of New Jersey. Detective Vanaman has served in over 300 cases involving Human Trafficking detection, arrests, and locating missing and exploited children since 2005.

His passion for the work was evident from early on and he has helped guide the Department’s efforts in this area at both a macro and micro level. Countless caseworkers and staff at all levels know Detective Vanaman for his assistance on individual cases. A call placed to him any time of the day or night has been met with sound guidance, collaboration, and a walk through of accessing resources at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, all before partnering with police and NCMEC on missing youth cases became law. Through the years, Detective Vanaman has responded in the field with workers to keep them safe, relentlessly looked for our children until they are found, doggedly pursued those who have victimized them, and educated us as a system.


Cherie Castellano, Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care
The Worker2Worker program is a peer to peer support initiative established to support DCF caseworkers/staff members who are routinely exposed to highly stressful situations in the work place.  The program employs former CP&P staff who ware familiar with the challenges of this work and offers reciprocal peer support.  The program would not be as successful if not for the support and dedication of the program lead, Cherie Castellano who has dedicated endless hours in support of the program’s mission in ensuring those who dedicate their lives to serving children and families take the time for self-care.

What's unique about this partnership is that the program goes over and beyond what is defined as "support."  As the program lead, Cherie has availed herself when most needed often times readjusting her calendar at the last minute to accommodate CP&P’s request for support. This speaks volume as often times the expertise of a trauma specialist requires an immediate face to face response.


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**2017 Commissioner's Special Recognition Award Recipient**

Michele Rodriguez, DCF Intern
Commissioner Blake received information about an intern who had gone above and beyond in helping a local office redecorate and update their visitation rooms.  After hearing that that the Local Office Manager was interested in moving forward with a project, but there were limitations and multiple components to the approval process, Michele Rodriguez made this a personal project that she was determined to see through to completion. 

Ultimately she has “made the room conducive to interaction between parent(s) and child(ren), made it a fun and safe place where families were as excited as they could be to meet, and has done away with the institutionalized setting's appearance.”


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2016 Commissioner's Partnership Award Recipient

Charles A. Richman, New Jersey Department of Community Affairs
Throughout his DCA career, Mr. Richman has spearheaded effective policy development in areas ranging from affordable housing, fire safety, community planning and economic revitalization to budget development. He has been responsible for regulatory reform in a variety of building and housing codes, evaluations of municipal operations; formulation of legislative strategies; preparation of department budgets and priorities; contract management; and supervision of operating divisions.

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, he helped lead efforts in providing Sandy-displaced families with housing options and in administering federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds to assist homeowners, renters and local governments in their Sandy recovery and rebuilding efforts.


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**2015 Commissioner's Distinguished Service Award Recipient**

In 2015, Commissioner Allison Blake, PhD, LSW awarded the Distinguished Service Award to honor an individual for her service and commitment on behalf of New Jersey's children and youth, to improve the lives of others and strengthen communities.

Lauren Carlton, Assistant Attorney General**
Lauren has been a strong and committed partner to DCF/DYFS throughout her career.  She began as a Deputy Attorney General representing DYFS in child protective service matters and as she retires from state service, she does so having served as the AAG in charge of the DCF section in the Division of Law in the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General. DCF is grateful for her service and wishes to express their appreciation.


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2015 Commissioner's Partnership Award Recipients

Alexis Krieger, FBI Victim Specialist
Alexis Krieger graduated from Indiana University in May 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice. Upon graduation, Alexis worked for the State of Ohio as a Child Abuse Investigator, specializing in serious physical and sexual abuse investigations.

Alexis began her Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) career in 2004 as an Investigative Specialist and was assigned to the Philadelphia Division. Over her six year tenure as an Investigative Specialist, Alexis assisted with numerous counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. One of Alexis' highlights as an Investigative Specialist was participating in the "Fort Dix Six" investigation, which resulted in the arrest and successful prosecution of six individuals who plotted to attack US military personnel stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Alexis received an award for her assistance with the investigation.

In 2010, Alexis became a Victim Specialist and was assigned to the Newark Division. Over the last nearly five years as a Victim Specialist, Alexis has ensured victims of a wide variety of Federal criminal investigations received services, resources and were promptly notified of their rights pursuant to the Attorney General Guidelines. Alexis is currently a member of several human trafficking task forces in the state of New Jersey and is also assisting in creating various training protocols for human trafficking. In 2013 and 2014, Alexis participated in joint, coordinated operations with the FBI, state and local law enforcement agencies targeting child sex trafficking leading up to Superbowl XLVIII. In 2012, Alexis and her partner received an award for her efforts and dedication to the Victim Specialist program for the Newark Division.

Keyla M. Munoz, M.A., FBI Victim Specialist
Keyla M. Muñoz, M.A., attended Seton Hall University and graduated with Bachelors in Arts and Science in 1997 and attained her Master's Degree in Human Resources Training and Development in 2012.   She "entered on duty" with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Newark Division in 2002 as a Victim Specialist. As a Victim Specialist, she is responsible for providing victim assistance and resources to victims identified in a variety of federal crimes.   Prior to her employment with the FBI, Mrs. Muñoz was employed by the State of New Jersey Office of the Public Defender as a Bi-Lingual Criminal Investigator where she was responsible for investigating adult and child Superior Court criminal matters.

In early 2003, she initiated her role in providing direct services to victims of Human Trafficking. Since 2004, Mrs. Muñoz has been leading the Newark Division's Victim Assistance Program's (VAP) efforts on combating Human Trafficking and participates in the joint coordinated operations with the FBI and local law enforcement in effort to recover and assist victims of human trafficking, to include the FBI's coordinated efforts during Superbowl XLVIII.

She serves on the NJ Anti-Trafficking Task Force, The NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking, the FBI's Human Trafficking Working Group, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Region II Human Trafficking Prevention Project and other NJ based task forces and committees where she assists on evaluating existing human trafficking laws, providing training and awareness, creating training protocols and promotes a coordinated response between law enforcement and social service providers.

In addition, her expertise in Human Trafficking afforded her the opportunity to travel internationally to train Latin American Government and law enforcement officials.  Mrs. Muñoz is an Adjunct Faculty Instructor for the FBI and in 2009 was honored as a recipient of the FBI's Director's Award for Excellence for Distinguished Service for Assisting Victims of Crime. Most recently, Mrs. Muñoz was honored with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families Commissioner's Partnership Award in recognition of her leadership and partnership.

Ladies Auxillary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)
The Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) is a national organization that not only assists active and retired military personnel and their families, but also raises money for cancer research, provides scholarships to youth, and volunteers in various settings at a local level. Thanks to the partnership of the Ladies Auxiliary of VFW Post 7298 with the DCF Office of Licensing (OOL) - Child Care and Youth Residential Licensing Unit, in November 2014 contributions of holiday gifts and supplies for the Ronald McDonald House in New Brunswick were doubled! Ronald McDonald Houses are a "home-away-from-home" for families so they can stay close by their hospitalized child who is seriously ill or injured at little or no cost. President, Toi Pittman and Vice President, Sandra Kornegay are pictured accepting the award on behalf of the Ladies Auxiliary.


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2014 Commissioner's Partnership Award Recipient

Robert McCormick, Montclair State University
In 2014, Commissioner Allison Blake presented the New Jersey Department of Children and Families Partnership Award to an individual who dedicated his life's work to vulnerable children and families.  By doing so, he left a legacy of caring and learning that is deeply respected and will long be remembered. It was no surprise that we received numerous nominations for this individual for the Partnership award.  He's been described by his colleagues as a pioneer, a visionary, and luminary in the field of child advocacy; a leader with a steadfast, passionate, and unwavering commitment to New Jersey's most vulnerable children and families. His academic achievements include a Ph.D. in 18th Century Spanish Literature from the City University of New York, a Masters and Ph.D. in Psychology from Rutgers University, and later a J.D. from the Rutgers School of Law.  He earned his Psychoanalyst certification from New York University. During his career, he was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Children and Families regarding child abuse cases. He founded the Center for Child Advocacy at Montclair State University. He partnered with DCF to develop a post-baccalaureate certificate in child advocacy for its staff and a special Certificate in Adolescent Advocacy for DCF staff working with adolescents in our local offices. He provided leadership to the Child Welfare Training Partnership. And he was appointed to the New Jersey Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect by Governor Christie. He did all this while maintaining a private practice for survivors of child abuse and neglect. His achievements are impressive, but perhaps more significant is the impact he had on his students and how his legacy continues through them.


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2013 Commissioner's Partnership Award Recipients

DCF Regional School, Mercer Project TEACH 
The Mercer Sewing Program is comprised of a group of retired educators who donate their time during the school year to teach sewing to our students who are pregnant teens and teen mothers. Ms. Nancy Prince is the lead teacher who coordinates this remarkable group of women volunteers who donate both their energy and resources for various sewing activities. The goal of this group is to provide students with the opportunities to build relationships with community partners, develop sewing skills, and gain confidence by completing projects for their children. Ms Prince has been involved in this program since 2003 and the number of volunteers has increased over the last three years. The program is well received by students and staff. Student attendance on sewing days as well our students' frequent demonstrations and expressions of appreciation are reflective of the positive impact of this program in our students' lives.


Gerard Costa, Montclair State University
Dr. Gerard Costa is the founding director of the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health in the College of Education and Human Services at Montclair State University. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Rutgers University - New Jersey Medical School. Dr. Costa currently serves on the Advisory Board of the New Jersey Child Assault Prevention (NJCAP) Program and is a Member and Past President of the New Jersey Association for Infant Mental Health (NJ-AIMH). He served on the BUILD NJ Committee, addressing public-private initiatives for early learning, birth to five years of age, the NJDHSS Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems (ECCS) Committee, and the New Jersey Strengthening Families Initiative (SFI) Task Force.


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2012 Commissioner's Partnership Award Recipient

Junius Scott, Former Region II Regional Manager, Administration of Children and Families
It's difficult to think of the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) without thinking of Junius Scott. With a commendable and admirable forty-two year legacy of public service, Junius has been a source of invaluable guidance and insight to New Jersey.  Junius has always partnered with New Jersey from a strength-based perspective in an effort to find the best ways to serve our children, youth, families and communities. Prior to his retirement, he served as the Child Welfare Regional Program Manager for the Children's Bureau Regional Program Division in Region II for the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF).  As Regional Program Manager, Mr. Scott reported directly to the Associate Commissioner of the Children's Bureau. In this position, Mr. Scott provided leadership, program and technical administration on Children's Bureau formula, entitlement, block grant and discretionary programs related to child welfare for the Region II jurisdictions of New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.


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2011 Commissioner's Partnership Award Recipient

Charlie Venti, Executive Director, The Nicholson Foundation
Charlie Venti, Executive Director, served as the Foundation's Deputy Director from 2002 to 2010, helping to establish the Foundation's funding priorities and strategic partnerships.  Prior to joining The Nicholson Foundation, Charlie spent twenty-seven years with the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services and was the first Division Protective Services Caseworker to rise to the position of Director.  He is an expert in the areas of youth development and child welfare.  While providing the overall management for the Foundation today, Charlie also spearheads Nicholson's child welfare and family support efforts.


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