Those who advocate for our children during difficult times deserve praise, recognition and endless thanks. They give kids voices, comfort in stressful situations and tirelessly work for their lifelong well-being. The Casey Excellence for Children Award recognizes individuals whose leadership and dedication build hope and make a difference in the lives of children and families within the child welfare system. This year, Casey Family Programs honors Olympia’s Jason Bragg for advocacy on behalf of birth parents.
Bragg is 1 of 10 winners for 2022, chosen nationwide. “The individuals we honor today come from an array of backgrounds and have contributed to the well-being of children and families in unique ways,” says Dr. William C. Bell, President and CEO of Casey Family Programs. “However, they all have one thing in common: Every one of them is building hope through their work, their advocacy and their commitment to children and families.”
Marty McOmber, Casey’s managing director of communications, explains that the group has been honoring individuals like Bragg since 2007. They work nationwide in an effort to safely reduce the need for foster care through increasing child and family well-being, he says. “Through our Casey Excellence for Children Awards, we recognize and honor those people who are doing the hard work at the local, state and national level to affect these types of changes. We especially value the voices and efforts of those with lived experience with the child welfare system, whether that be birth parents who’ve had to engage with the system, alumni of the foster care system or resource parents who’ve cared for children and youth in foster care.”
2022 Casey Excellence for Children Award Winner, Jason Bragg
“Jason was one of a few candidates that was nominated by a member of Casey Family Programs staff,” continues McOmber. “Most nominees are suggested by outside organizations who are familiar with the candidate’s work on behalf of children and families. The nomination form spoke of Jason’s tireless advocacy on behalf of parents involved in the child welfare system, especially fathers. His own experience navigating the system as a father, where he was successfully reunited with his son, led him to want to help other parents successfully navigate the journey in the same way he had.”
Bragg didn’t even know he’d been nominated until receiving the email that he’d won the award. “I was completely overwhelmed with gratitude. It’s such an honor to be recognized for the good work you’re doing.”
Since 2014, Bragg has worked for the Washington State Office of Public Defense as a contracted social service worker. As a single parent who once battled addiction, he has experience in the system and processes required to reunite parents with their children. His job now helps attorneys, parents and caseworkers as needed to reunite families involved in child welfare. Through this work, he gives parents – fathers in particular – the assurance they need to remain involved and get their children back.
“For someone like myself, who has experienced the harm and trauma of the child removal system in my opinion I couldn’t have found a better position,” says Bragg. “I feel so blessed to be part of so many peoples journey back from the trenches helping connect them to tangible resources that help heal their families’ lives. We really have something special going on here in Washington.”
Any time the courts are involved in family life, it adds an extra level of stress. “We need to stop telling families what they need and include them and actually hear them as to what they need,” Bragg shares. “We need to move from a punitive compliance-based fear of liability system to a system of communities of hope wrapping around individuals. I like to say we need the Oprah system, where families get what they need and are provided the resources and support as well as space to heal alongside their children to help make families whole. Instead of mandated reporters we need mandated supporters.”
To those going through the system, or supporting a loved one on their journey, Bragg sends constant encouragement. “I would say be the change that you want to see,” he says. “There is a 15% solution that can be found every day to make a positive impact in the families lives that we serve. Hope is free, don’t be afraid to believe in families who don’t believe in themselves. You might be the first person to open that door of willingness to change that will cause a ripple effect breaking the cycle of trauma for a family.”
Know someone you’d like to nominate for a Casey Excellence for Children Award? Read about the nomination criteria and stories from winners like Jason Bragg, then fill out the nomination form online. You can also get involved with Casey Family Programs as a foster family, supporter, mentor or community partner.
Speaking up for those without a voice is vitally important. Activist Malala Yousafzai says that, “When the world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” When that voice belongs to someone like Jason Bragg, children and families know they have a strong ally who understands and knows what steps to take.