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Advocates and Media Representative Receive Awards

Embargoed until
March 22, 2000
Contact: Linda O'Neal
(615) 741-2633

Two advocates for children from across the state and a media representative are being honored by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.

Sandi Fisher and Trudy Hughes received the Jim Pryor Child Advocate of the Year award recognizing their efforts on behalf of children.

Carrie Ferguson of The (Nashville) Tennessean received the Making Kids Count Media Award, which is being given for the first time this year.

The honors were awarded at the 12th Annual Children's Advocacy Day (CAD). More than 300 people, including 80 young people, attended the event. They learned about state government and legislation affecting children and met with legislators to share their expertise and concerns.

The Children's Rights Conference offered yesterday in tandem with CAD trained more than 200 concerned citizens on children's legal rights.

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is an independent state agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly. Its primary mission is to advocate for improvements in the quality of life for Tennessee children and families.

For more information about the awards or Children's Advocacy Day, contact (615) 741-2633.

Media Award Winner Carrie Ferguson

Carrie Ferguson's work for Nashville's daily paper has altered the future for Tennessee's children. Her series on adoption and on children in state custody provided both citizens and their elected officials with the information they needed to make changes in these systems.

"Carrie's work represents the best of Tennessee journalism and shows the impact informed enterprise journalism can have," said Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.

The series on adoption described the problems families face as they attempted to adopt and the pain caused to all involved by the delays and problems. A legislative committee was created to examine adoption laws, and changes to improve and speed the process were enacted into law.

"Lost in the system," a three-part series on problems within the state's foster care system, ran in November 1998. Ferguson identified lapses in the system caused by inadequate staffing and funding, which resulted in unwieldy caseloads for case workers and attorneys.

In 1999, in a year of budget cutting, the Legislature added $15.3 million in state funds to the Department of Children's Services budget to improve services for children in state custody.

Ferguson, who covered social services and children's issues for the newspaper, also convinced the newspaper to institute a regular feature focusing on children awaiting adoptive homes. The paper cooperated with the Center for Adoption in Nashville to identify children and tell their stories.

"Tennessee's children need more journalists like Carrie watching out for them," O'Neal said.

Jim Pryor Award Winner Sandi Fisher

Sandi Fisher, program development coordinator for the Northeast Tennessee Community Services Agency, has been a foster parent, a teacher and also worked with a Homes Ties program. In her current position, she has facilitated the development of a plan to meet needs identified in Northeast Tennessee.

"During her work with Tennessee Home Ties, approximately 100 families were positively touched by her work and dedication to improving the quality of life for the children," said Diane Cupp, president of the Northeast Regional Council on Children and Youth. One of these children is now a student at Berea College in Kentucky and still turns to Fisher for advice.

Fisher and her husband, Neil, have an extended family that includes many children and young adults that they choose to mentor.

Her skills with children are matched by her administrative skills. "Sandi is always willing to provide technical assistance and her grant-writing skills to individuals and agencies to obtain grants that service children," Cupp said.

The Truancy Prevention Program serving Greene County and the Boys-to-Men Program in Johnson City have profited from Fisher's expertise.

Fisher's lengthy participation with the Northeast Tennessee Council on Children and Youth includes a term as co-chair of the Legislative Committee and frequent assistance with special projects.

Cupp said, "Sandi has a true desire and drive to always be seeking new and successful approaches in improving the quality of life for children.

Jim Pryor Award Winner Trudy Hughes

Trudy Hughes, executive director of the Children's Advocacy Center of Hamilton County, left a career in commercial banking in 1982. She worked with the juvenile court in Knox County and headed up a Home Ties family-support program in Chattanooga before moving into her current position. She implemented new programs and has helped plan conferences and write legislation.

"While serving as director for the Home Ties program, Trudy was available to her families 24 hours per day, seven days a week," said James Nelson, president of the Southeast Council on Children and Youth. "Under her direction, this intensive in-home intervention program boasted an 82 percent success rate after only one year."

Hughes introduction to services for children came when she volunteered to teach weight training to mentally ill boys. "It was through this experience that she discovered firsthand the significant impact that one committed adult could have on a child who would otherwise be lost," Nelson said.

Her career has included working with children and their families in group-home settings, juvenile and family courts, mental health centers and various county and state agencies.

The Children's Advocacy Center under Hughes' direction has become one of the first in the nation to meet newly revised standards for advocacy centers.

Hughes has been active with both the East Tennessee and Southeast Tennessee Councils on Children and Youth and served as Southeast Council president from 1993 to 1997.

"Her activities continue to enable countless child advocates, service agencies and volunteers statewide to positively influence children and youth," said Nelson.