Kent County child welfare director receives statewide honor for her commitment to helping children and families; Savator Selden-Johnson earns Steve Yager Lifetime Achievement Award

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Nov. 22, 2021

CONTACT: Bob Wheaton, 517-241-2112

LANSING, Mich. - Savator Selden-Johnson, Kent County child welfare director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), is the 2021 winner of the Steve Yager Lifetime Achievement Award given by the Governor's Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect.

She is being honored for all she has done to protect children during her 31 years working in child welfare.

"I am incredibly moved by the impact Director Selden-Johnson has had on her staff and the children and families she serves," said Annie Harrison, chairperson of the task force. "She is an inspiring leader who keeps children at the heart of every decision."

The task force said Selden-Johnson is a transformational and inspirational leader and is a champion for racial and social justice, describing her as being passionate about helping children and families and ensuring they have a voice.

"I'm honored to accept this award," Selden-Johnson said. "Child welfare has been my life's work, along with preserving children and families. I am excited to be involved in the ongoing MDHHS efforts to emphasize prevention in the child welfare system, which supports children safely remaining at home and promotes racial equity and social justice."

Selden-Johnson is a state and national leader in enacting practices to reduce disparities in child protection and child removal. Some of the transformational changes accomplished through her leadership include:

  • Development in 2016 of a Critical Incident Response Team at the Kent County MDHHS Office to support staff experiencing secondary trauma. This was through a partnership with Jim Henry of Western Michigan University, who co-founded and directs the university's Children's Trauma Assessment Center.
  • The 2017 launch of the West Michigan Partnership for Children (WMPC), which has piloted a community-based foster care model for Kent County.
  • A greater focus on placing children in foster care with relatives. In 2017, she reallocated a staffing position in the Kent County office to focus on assessing families for placement of their relative children who need foster homes.
  • Initiating a county-wide collaborative partnership in 2018 focusing on the over-representation of children of color in the child welfare system.

The award is named after Steve Yager, former executive director of the MDHHS Children's Services Agency.

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