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Speakers’ Biographies


Michelle Barclay, Esquire:  Michelle Barclay has been the staff to the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Commission on Justice for Children’s since 1996. Before becoming a lawyer, she was a nurse, specializing in ICU and trauma care at both Grady and Emory Hospitals.  Her degrees include a Juris Doctor from Emory University School of Law.  She is also co-founder (along with her husband Andrew Barclay) of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University.


Judge William Bartles: The Honorable Judge Bartles is the Juvenile Court Judge of Henry County.  He received his Law Degree from the University of Georgia. During his tenure as Juvenile Court Judge, Judge Bartles has partner with the Department of Family and Children Services to ensure the highest quality of services to children and families by the Department. Additionally, Judge Bartles frequently shares his vast knowledge with judges, foster and adoptive parents, and child welfare professionals throughout the country as a national speaker on child welfare topics


Estelline Beamon, BSW, MPA: Estelline Beamon is a State of Georgia, GA-RYSE Independent Living Specialist in Region 12 of the Division of Family of Children Services.  Ms. Beamon has worked at the Division with foster care youth transitioning to adulthood since September 2003.  Prior to working with the Division, she worked as the Program Specialist/Tutor Coordinator serving youth in the Upward Bound/TRiO Program at Savannah State University preparing youth to successfully matriculate and graduate from institutions of postsecondary learning.


Tierica Berry: Ms. Berry is an emotional success strategist and women’s empowerment leader and founder of a women’s standard.  She spends most of her time delivering staff development training and youth presentations. With heavy emphasis on emotional success, Ms. Berry has managed to motivate and redirect some of the most troubled youth with her engaging and relevant programs. In partnership with Hustle University and the Make Way Program, her organization services various types of youth organizations from public school districts to youth detention centers. She has received national recognition for her creative writing program, the Anthology Project, and as a publisher/author of multiple empowerment books.


Paul Blough:  Mr. Blough is CEO and founder of Blough Tech, a nationally recognized IT service company focused on helping small business solve their problems through technology.  Mr. Blough and his wife Kim are 25 plus year veteran foster parents, have had over 110 plus children in their home and have adopted six.  They are actively involved in trying to break the cycle that leads many foster children to repeat the mistakes of their birth parents.  Mr. Blough also serves on the board of directors for both the local and state foster parent organizations. He has also been a part of church ministry since he was 15 and currently is the pastor of Barnetts Creek Baptist Church.         


Charles and Suzette Brown: Debra Suzette Brown and Charles Allen Brown have been married for 30 years.  Mrs. Brown has an Associate Degree in Business Management and a BA in Psychology. She has been employed with Families First- Georgia Center for Resources and Support for over five years. Mr. Brown has an Associate Degree in Photography from the Atlanta Art Institute and has been employed with the Atlanta Public School System. They are raising their 8 year old granddaughter.


Jerry Bruce, Esquire: Jerry Bruce has been a parent attorney, Guardian ad Litem, delinquency and adult prosecutor, delinquency and adult defender, Special Assistant Attorney General representing DFCS, and a juvenile court judge – essentially every job an attorney can do in Georgia’s Juvenile Court.  He is currently involved in child welfare law and policy work for state agencies, educational institutions, and regularly presents and trains on child welfare issues.


Deborah Burrus: Deborah Burrus is the DFCS Permanency Director for the State of Georgia.  Ms. Burrus has worked passionately in the field of child welfare since 1992. Most of Ms. Burrus’s tenure has been spent working in adoptions. Currently, as the Permanency Director, Ms. Burrus is responsible for leading her team’s efforts to achieve timely and safe permanency outcomes for children in foster care.  In this position, she oversees the Adoption Program, Guardianship Program and the recruitment of adoptive homes. Ms. Burrus has served on the National Foster Care Managers Board and has a Bachelor’s of Science Degree from Auburn University.


Donjai Calhoun:  Ms.  Calhoun is the Head Start Collaboration Manager at the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. He supports the well-being of children in foster care ages birth through five by connecting them to Head Start and Early Head Start Programs statewide. He is most passionate about ensuring all children have access to quality early childhood education that will promote healthy brain development and ultimately increase their chance for successful adulthood. He has 12 years of early childhood development and youth programming experience.


Chris and Jen Cannington: The Cannington were foster parents and now they are adoptive parents of two ADHD children.  Mr. Cannington has personal insight into living with this line of illness as he has struggled with it himself.  Mr. Cannington has used his personal experience to help children cope and understand ADHD from the inside out.  Mrs. Cannington is a licensed Professional Counselor. She has worked in Community Mental Health with both Adult and Child and Adolescent Population.  She has spent the last 8 years working with the Department of Juvenile Justice.


Verdell Daniels:  Mr. Daniels was born in Eastman (Dodge County), Georgia. He graduated from Peabody High School and attended South College and Savannah State University.  Mr. Daniels holds an Associate Degree in Business Administration. He is an U.S. Marine Corp veteran, retired from CSX Railroad and is currently the Adoptive and Foster Parent Association of Georgia’s President.  The Daniels have been foster parents since 1987.  Mr. and Mrs. Daniels have been married for 42 years. They have five biological children, two adoptive children and have been foster parents to over a 150 children.  


Rebecca Davidson: Ms. Davidson has worked 18 years with DFCS (14 years with the Social Services side). Currently she serves as Social Services Supervisor for Resource Development in Region 2.  She has worked all over the state of Georgia in many different roles including Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services.


John DeGarmo: Dr. DeGarmo wrote his dissertation on “The Challenges that Foster Children Face While in Rural School” and is the author of “Fostering Love” and “One Foster Parent’s Journey”. Dr. DeGarmo is also a dynamic and informative speaker and trainer on the foster care system, traveling across the USA on regular basis.  He has spoken with and trained foster parent associations, business, and numerous nonprofit organizations. He is also a regular contributor to several publications and newsletters throughout the USA and Europe on the topic of foster care. Dr. DeGarmo has been a foster parent for over twelve years.


Erika Dennis: Ms. Dennis is the newest Credit Report Specialist to GARYSE/ILP team. She has worked in the consumer finance industry for the past few years to promote both financial stability and independence amongst families and individuals. She has extensive background in reading and interpreting credit reports as well as resolving inaccuracies when necessary. Ms. Dennis holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting with a Minor in Management from Georgia Southern University.



Rachel M. Ewald: Mrs. Ewald is the founder and Executive Director of the Foster Care Support Foundation. The Ewalds fostered 50 children which prompted her to create the Foster Care Support Foundation in 1996. They started the foundation in their garage. The Foster Care Support Foundation has served over 3,500 families since it’s inception.  Mrs. Ewald served on the Governor’s Office of Children and Families Advisory Board under Governor Sonny Perdue and now serves in the state CAPTA committee. She is the recipients of numerous awards, stemming from her accomplishments through child advocacy.


Fabienne Michel:  Ms. Michel currently serves as the District 2 CAPS Field Program Specialist. She relocated to Georgia from New York City nine years ago.  She first worked with the Department of Family and Children Services as a Gwinnett County Social Services Case Manager. During her tenure in Gwinnett County, she moved up to Supervisor, Administrator and Acting Program Director. Ms. Michel has over 15 years of experience in the field of social work. She is a graduate of Fordham University’s School of Social Work. She is married and has three children. 


Regina R. Fraser: Mrs. Fraser is originally from Evansville, Indiana and graduated from the University of Southern Indiana. She moved to Hinesville, Georgia in May 2004 and began working with the Division of Family and Children Services in August 2004.  She has worked in all Social Services Program areas: Child Protective Services Investigations, Family Preservations, Foster Care, Resource Development and began as the Region 12 Resource Development Supervisor in July 2015.


Brenda Gillespie LMSW:  Mrs. Gillespie is the Program Manager for the Georgia Center for Resources and Support.  She is an LMSW, having graduated from the University of Georgia’s School of Social Work. She retired from DFCS in 2004. She led the development of IMPACT, a continuum of services for prospective foster and adoptive families.  She was a consultant for EMBRACE (the Foster Family Foundation of Georgia Inc.) and program director for Miriam’s Way (a Faith Based community organization). Mrs. Gillespie is the mother of three and the grandmother of four.


Craig Goodmark, Esquire: Attorney Craig Goodmark is currently running his own small private education law practice, having previously worked for nine years at Atlanta Legal Aid Society. He received his education at University of Florida School of Law and Wake Forest University, earning a bachelor’s degree in history.


Victoria Green: Ms. Green is an EPAC Education Support Monitor for Region 12. Ms. Green received her Bachelor’s Degree in Music Therapy and her Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Georgia. In addition, she holds an Educational Specialist degree from Georgia Southern University.  Ms. Green has dedicated her career to educating and serving children. She has worked both as a music teacher and a professional school counselor for a number of years in the Glynn County School System.  Ms. Green has worked as an Adoption Specialist, Recruiter, Trainer, and most recently as a Glynn County Permanency Case Manager.     


Angela Harris: Ms. Harris is a Licensed Counselor who studied through Georgia Southern University and South University.  She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Justice Studies and a Master’s Degree in Professional Counseling. Ms. Harris has 20 years of experience with the state of Georgia, and in other various settings working with individuals, couples, and families. She has extensive experience with high risk populations, at risk youth, difficult adjustments, trauma, victims of abuse, depression, anxiety, and impulse control problems.


Betty Hasting:  Ms. Hasting has been a foster parent for over 27 years.  She is past president of the Tenn. State Foster and Adoptive Association.  She has served on the National Foster Parent Board of Directors.

Ms. Hasting has served in every area of foster care and from her own experiences, bring reasons as to why we must “KEEP ON FOSTERING”.


Candis Jones: Candis Jones began her career with the State of Georgia in 1997 in the Department of Corrections.  In 2002, she transitioned to the Division of Family and Children Services. Mrs. Jones has served in several positions with the Division, from the Office of Family Independence to the Office of Child Welfare with a bulk of her tenure in Child Welfare. She also served as Director of Thomas County DFCS.  In December 2015, she became the Director of the Caregiver Recruitment and Retention Unit in where she has been working feverishly to develop a strong and supportive network for Georgia’s caregivers and children. 


Marjorie Jones, LPN:  Mrs. Marjorie Jones is a Certified Nurse’s Assistance.  She was employed for eight years at Memorial Mission Hospital in Ashville N.C.  Mrs. Jones served five years in the U.S. Army as an Administrative Assistant.  She was station at Fort Carson, Colorado and in Germany.  After her tour of duty was over, she and her husband lived in Fort Hood, Texas for 28 years. During that time, she furthered her education by obtaining a Nursing License at Temple Junior College and at the University of Texas.  Mrs. Jones is a foster and adoptive parent and a member of the Adoptive and Foster Parent Association of Georgia’s Board of Directors.


Judge Michael Key:  The Honorable Judge Michael Key has served on the Juvenile Court bench in Troup County, Georgia, since 1989 and is a partner in the law firm of Key & Gordy, P.C.  A graduate of Emory University School of Law, Judge Key served in the U.S. Air Force from 1971-1975. Judge Key is the past President of the Juvenile Court of Judges.  He is a member of the Georgia Child Support Guidelines Commission and served as chair of the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.


Josh Kroll:  Mr. Kroll is the Project Coordinator of the Adoption Subsidy Resource Center, a program of the North American Council on Adoptable Children. He has worked at NACAC for over 17 years, almost all those years as either program assistant to the Adoption Subsidy Resource Center or Project Coordinator for the project.  In his years working with the Adoption Subsidy Resource Center, he gained an extensive knowledge of federal and state laws and policies that he draws upon to answer thousands of inquiries from parents, workers, and administrators.


Karen Lambie: Now retired, Dr. Lambie taught for a total of 32 years at both elementary school and University Levels.  She has a PH.D. In educational psychology from the University of Georgia. Before retiring in 2010, she made the decision to dedicate the rest of her life to work for social change and raise awareness concerning human rights violations.  She serves on the Board of Directors for Savannah Working against Human Trafficking (SWAHT), volunteers for Prevent Child Abuse Bulloch County, Ambassador of Hope for Shared Hope International, served on the Board of Advisors for the Malaika Foundation for Disadvantaged Girls in Kenya and is a foster Parent for Bulloch County DFCS.


Natasha LaMarr:  Dr. LaMarr has a doctorate in Counseling Education and Supervision. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Prepared Enrich Facilitator, with a certification in Marriage and Family Therapy.  She is an approved clinical supervisor and a national certified counselor with over 15 years of experience working with families, couples, teens, adolescents, and children.  She has also worked in higher education as a professor at Mercer University, Devry University and Bauder College. The focus of Dr. LaMarr’s research has been on the effects of journal, marriage and family, integrating spirituality into counseling and the dissolution of marriage with in the community.


Bonnie Lockwood:  Mrs. Lockwood has a Master’s of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling from Georgia State University. She has been a Licensed Professional Counselor in Georgia since 1994. She has served as the Director of Cornerstones Counseling Center since 1997.  Mrs. Lockwood has studied and worked with attachment disorders for several years.  She also specializes in addiction and child welfare work. Mrs. Lockwood is married and has two teenage girls.


Kristi Lovelace:  The Honorable Judge Lovelace practices law in central Georgia.  She is certified as a Child Welfare Law Specialist by the National Association of Counsel for Children, represents parents and children, and works as a municipal court judge.


Devin Martin:  Mr. Martin is a graduate of Alabama State University where he received his Bachelor Degree in 2003 and a Master’s in 2006. In 2007, he joined the Department of Human Services, where he worked seven years with the Office of Inspector General as a Criminal History Specialist.  Mr. Martin joined GA/RYSE Independent Living Program as a Credit Report Specialist in 2014. In his new role, he helped to create the blueprint and foundation of initiating and completing the credit reporting process to serve foster youth through the State of Georgia.


Judy Nino:  Mrs. Nino currently serves as a CAPS Field Program Specialist assisting multiple Districts in South Georgia.  Mrs. Nino has over 28 years of experience in providing services to Georgia families while working with the Department of Family and Children Services.  Her work experience includes functioning as an OFI and Social Services Case Manager as well as serving as a Supervisor at Ware County DFCS in both program areas before moving up to Child Care Field Program Specialist.


Adrian Owens: Mr. Owens has been employed with the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) for 12 years. He began his career with DFCS in Gwinnett County in 2003 in the adoption unit.  In 2005, Mr. Owens joined the DFCS State Adoption Unit as a Policy Specialist. In 2008, Mr. Owens became Program Manager in the Social Services Administration Unit (SSAU) and in 2012, he became the SSAU Director.  Mr. Owens and his staff provide management and oversight of the IV-E Adoption Assistance  program, post–adoption contracts and services, adoption assistance policy, Interstate Adoption/Foster care (ICAMA) Medicaid, training and consultation and adoption records management.


Tom Rawlings:  Tom Rawlings has a long record of using his legal and advocacy skills on behalf of those who most need help, especially children and families. For the past 12 years, he has served in numerous policy, legal, and court leadership role.  As the first full time, Juvenile Court Judge for Georgia’s Middle Circuit, he started an innovative mental therapy program for children and youth in his court and their families.


Debra Ross, MSW – Program Coordinator/ Parent Coach: Debra Ross, MSW has worked in the field of Social Work for more than 30 + years. She has worked in both the private and public sector providing a unique approach to ensuring the prevention, protection and preservation of parents and children. Her creative approach and innovative strategies along with years of child welfare experience help to make her an exceptional advocate for families and children.


Anthony Stover: Mr. Stover is the Courts Training Coordinator for MAAC/Georgia Empowerment.  He is also in the United States Navy Reserve.


Renee Sylvester, MA, LAPC: Mrs. Sylvester has been working with families involved with child welfare system in Georgia since 2007. During that time, Mrs. Sylvester has provided the families skills and resources needed to provide children with safety, stability, and permanency. Mrs. Sylvester has also been employed as an adjunct instructor with South University, where she taught Lifespan Development and Human Sexuality.


Teresa Thornton Reese:  Ms. Reese is an Independent Living Specialist for the Division of Family and Children Services.  She has worked for the Division of Family and Children Services since November 2000.  Throughout Ms. Reese’s career in DFCS, she worked as a Social Services Case Manager in Foster Care prior to moving to current position in June 2013.  She is a graduate of Mercer University in which she received a Women’s Back to School Scholarship and was selected for Governor’s Internship. 


Kristen Toliver:  Mrs. Toliver is the Wellness Programming Assessment and Consultation (WPAC) Director at the Division of Family and Children Services, where she oversees the physical and behavioral health needs of children in the agency’s custody. She graduated from Clark Atlanta University with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work in 2000 and later earned a master’s degree in Social Work. Mrs. Toliver has been with the Division of Family and Children Services for over twelve years in the positions of a Case Manager, Supervisor, Administrator, Field Program Specialist and Program Director. Mrs. Toliver is dedicated to improving the well-being needs of children in the foster care system.


Leah Waters: Mrs. Waters has been with the Department of Family and Children Services for 14 years. Mrs. Waters started off as a Foster Care Case Manager before being promoted to Adoption and Resource Development Supervisor where she spent most her DFCS career recruiting Foster and Adoptive Families and working to finalize adoptions. Mrs. Waters joined Social Services Administration Unit (SSAU) working in the title IV-E Adoption Assistance in February 2014. In addition to managing the contract with Ga. Center Resources and Support, Mrs. Waters assists with policy consultation, ICAMA Medicaid and approves Special Services Adoption Assistance requests.


Jennifer Williams: Ms. Williams is the Assistant Program Manager for the Educational Programming Assessment and Consultation Unit of Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services.  Ms. Williams is the direct supervisor for a team of 15 Education Support Monitors who serve as educational advocates for children in foster care throughout the State of Georgia.  Ms. Williams is a strong advocate for the education of children and has 20 + years of experience working with populations of children and youth most vulnerable to academic failure.  She holds an undergraduate degree in English from Clark University and a Master’s in Public Administration from Troy University.  Ms. Williams is currently working towards her PhD in Public Policy and Administration.


Rita Young: Ms. Young is a private consultant, who specializes in training, project management, and stake holder engagement. Her professional goal is to support the private and public sector with the latest information, programming and products to create efficiencies and foster innovation in serving and supporting individuals with disabilities. As an experienced coach and facilitator, Ms. Young formerly directed Partners in Policymaking, a well-recognized leadership program for families and individual with disabilities.  Ms. Young also directed a justice-training program.  As a public policy director, she worked with the Georgia General Assembly to advocate for funding for home and community base services.