2023 Promoting Excellence Award Honorees
NACC presents the Promoting Excellence Awards annually to individuals and organizations making significant contributions to the rights and well-being of children and families through excellence in legal representation.
Outstanding Legal Advocate
Shereen White, JD
Director of Advocacy and Policy at Children’s Rights
Shereen White’s career has been dedicated to fighting for the rights of children and families. As the Director of Advocacy and Policy at Children’s Rights (CR), Shereen works to bridge the rights of children and parents, building coalitions and leading advocacy campaigns to protect the integrity and well-being of families. In 2021, Shereen’s impeccable scholarship and deep knowledge of systemic racism in child-serving systems led to CR’s publication, “Fighting Institutional Racism at the Front End of Child Welfare Systems: A Call to Action To End the Unjust, Unnecessary, and Disproportionate Removal of Black Children from their Families.” In 2022, Shereen, in collaboration with a team of child and family advocates, took her advocacy to the United Nations, calling on a UN Committee to hold the US accountable for its failure to take meaningful action to address racial discrimination within the system. Shereen believes strongly in the importance of relationship building and partnering with people with lived expertise with or in the child welfare system. As the daughter of a Black man separated from his mother and siblings by the child welfare system, Shereen’s own experience with intergenerational trauma is foundational to her work. Shereen “is an outstanding person who brings enormous talents and passion to this very difficult work with joy, humor, and wisdom. She is an important part of a moment and movement that is leading to better, happier, and safer lives for children.”
Outstanding New Lawyer
Kaveh Landsverk, JD
Attorney at Children’s Law Center of California
Upon graduation in 2020, Kaveh Landsverk received a post-bar fellowship at the Children’s Law Center of California funded by the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families and now serves as an attorney in CLC-CA’s Pre-Filing Representation Project. Kaveh was integral to the creation of CLC-CA’s early intervention (pre-petition) program that seeks to prevent the children of minor and non-minor dependent clients from entering the foster care system. As of July 2022, 61 of the 73 clients served where in the custody of a parent, 3 had been placed with relatives, and 9 were in foster care. Kaveh’s nominator said: “One of Kaveh’s notable qualities is his dedication to client-centered practice.” Kaveh and his team quickly build rapport with clients, create a safe space for clients to share concerns and how they would like to reach their parenting goals. In addition to his hard work and dedication to his clients, Kaveh is an active member on CLC-CA’s Reducing Racial Disproportionality and Disparity Committee, and works on a team “Advancing Racial Justice and Equality” Capstone Project through Georgetown University.
Outstanding Law Student
Student at Columbia Law School
Growing up on a farm in rural Nebraska, Rose Wehrman dedicated herself at an early age to advocating for children and families. Her lived experiences led her to pursue undergraduate roles in Teen Court, the Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association Board of Directors, and after college Rose taught in a K-8 Philadelphia access center serving low-income families. Rose became the first person in her family to attend school beyond college and began at Columbia Law School. At CLS Rose was a Public Interest/Public Service Fellow and Public Interest Chair of First Generation Professionals. Rose interned at the Support Center for Child Advocates, Juvenile Law Center, Education Law Center, and the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project. Last summer Rose was a Bergstrom Child Welfare Fellow at the University of Michigan Law School. Additionally, Rose worked as a Research Assistant for Professor Josh Gupta-Kagan on the links between poverty, race, and child neglect allegations and will join Professor Kagan’s Family Defense Clinic next fall.
Frank Cervone, JD
Support Center for Child Advocates, Philadelphia
Frank Cervone served for 33 years at the Support Center for Child Advocates in Philadelphia, 31 years as its Executive Director. During Frank’s tenure, the organization has experienced transformational growth and unwavering commitment to its mission: to advocate for victims of child abuse and neglect with the goal of securing safety, justice, well-being and a permanent, nurturing environment for every child. In 1992, Child Advocates had an operating budget of under $500,000 and served approximately 400 children annually. Today, the organization has an operating budget of $5.1 million, an endowment of $7 million, and serves more than 1,000 children and youth annually. Frank has been an active leader in developing children’s law on a national level. Aside from participating in two national gatherings that focused on the role of lawyers for children (the Conference on Ethical Issues in the Legal Representation of Children at Fordham University in 1996 and the follow-up conference in 2006 Representing Children in Families: Exploring the Relationship Between Children’s Advocacy and Justice Ten Years After Fordham), Frank played a leading role in the development of American Bar Association Policy and Standards, assisting with the development of both the Standards of Practice for Lawyers Representing Children in Abuse and Neglect Cases, the Standards of Practice for Lawyers Representing Children in Custody Cases, and also the Model Act Governing the Representation of Children in Abuse, Neglect and Dependency Cases. His good humor and sharp intellect have changed hearts and minds, brought unlikely partners together, and resulted in remarkable reform. Frank was a founding member of the ABA Section of Litigation Children’s Rights Litigation Committee, and through his work with the committee he supported countless children’s law centers around the country in their development by providing guidance and advice.
Outstanding Children’s law office/Agency
Colorado Office of the Child Representative
The Colorado Office of the Child Representative (OCR) was founded in 2001 as an independent agency of the judicial branch to contracts with attorneys who represent children in dependency and neglect and other proceedings across the state of Colorado. OCR exemplifies best practices in an agency/contract model and provides strong leadership to advance youth rights in Colorado. Prioritizing youth voice and lived expertise, OCR created a Lived Expert Action Panel and a dedicated Engaging and Empowering Youth Attorney position. The agency also advances multidisciplinary representation by adding social work professionals, creating a case consultant model, and drawing upon Title IV-E funding to enhance legal services and training. OCR also sought to make improvements in diversity, equity, and inclusion, performing an agency evaluation and adding a new EDI staff attorney position to address disparities in practice and policy. In 2022, OCR led the effort to change state law and the model of representation for children and youth 12 years of age or older from a best interest to a client-directed model in dependency and neglect proceedings, and in 2023 OCR secured an 18% increase for contract attorneys to $100/hour.
Outstanding Pro Bono Partner
Ballard Spahr LLP and Robert Gutierrez, Of Counsel
This year, NACC adds a new award: Outstanding Pro Bono Partner. The Board of Directors will grant this award to a lawyer or organization who makes significant pro bono contributions to NACC’s mission, vision, and programs. NACC is pleased to present its inaugural Outstanding Pro Bono Partner Award to Ballard Spahr, LLP, and Robert S. Gutierrez, Of Counsel. Since 2020, Ballard Spahr provided more than 80 hours of legal services pro bono to help NACC publish the Fourth Edition of Child Welfare Law and Practice: Legal Representation of Children, Parents, and Agencies in Neglect, Abuse, and Dependency Proceedings andthe forthcoming Second Edition of the Children’s Law Office Guidebook. This is the first time NACC self-published Child Welfare Law and Practice, and it was a substantial undertaking for our organization and staff. Ballard Spahr’s assistance with contracts, copyright, and related publication questions was foundational to the successful publication of this outstanding book that will shape practice and policy for years to come. NACC is particularly grateful to Robert Gutierrez for his outstanding and timely guidance, drafting, and review throughout NACC’s publication projects. NACC also thanks Pro Bono Counsel Lisa Swaminathan, Associate Michael Shymon, and Attorney and now Assistant Professor Loralee Sundra, for their contributions to this engagement.