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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
May 14, 2007
DeKalb — A longtime key associate of Sharon Freagon and a veteran professor of school counseling will serve together as co-directors of Northern Illinois University’s Center for Child Welfare and Education.
The mission of the center is to assist in the education and development of children who have been abused and neglected, and to ensure academic success and social competence for children who are in state custody.
Angela Baron-Jeffrey, assistant director of the center, and Toni Tollerud, a professor in the NIU Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, are set to replace Freagon, who is retiring at the end of June.
They hope to strengthen services to post-secondary and college students, rekindle a relationship with the Chicago Public Schools and work even closer with school counselors, social workers and classrooms teachers.
“It’s critical that we continue to provide the services these kids need and to be responsive to changes in the field. The population we serve needs us,” Baron-Jeffrey said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to have collaborated with Sharon in establishing the only center of its kind in the nation. What separates us from many other centers that look at child welfare issues is that most others are research. Our main focus is service.”
“I’m very excited about bringing my experience as a licensed professional clinical counselor to work with the issue of trauma and to find ways to alleviate trauma so that these students can be effective learners,” Tollerud said. “When youngsters come to school hungry or frightened or scared or traumatized, they are not good learners because they’re preoccupied. They’re thinking about other issues in their lives.”
For Baron-Jeffrey, the promotion continues her work to protect the educational needs of children in the state’s welfare system.
For Tollerud, the new job offers exciting challenges along with opportunities to expand her efforts to improve school counseling services.
Both are perfect choices, Freagon said.
“Angela has tremendous experience with this population, and she knows both systems – education and the DCFS – backward and forward,” Freagon said. “Toni’s counseling work is certainly an asset, and her background in training will benefit our educational advisers.”
Christine Sorensen, dean of the NIU College of Education, agrees.
“Angela has been Sharon’s right-hand person for a long time and is very familiar with the operations of the center. She brings that history. She’s been there from the beginning. She knows the people in Springfield, Chicago and around the state,” Sorensen said. “Toni will bring her own ideas. Toni has passions in the counseling area and in working to reduce violence.”
Staff at NIU’s Center for Child Welfare and Education handle more than 3,000 cases each year and train more 4,000 people annually in educational matters related to foster children in the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services system.
Baron-Jeffrey’s involvement with the project indeed starts at the beginning: She was Freagon’s graduate assistant in 1994, the year her boss was asked to chair a new DCFS task force on education.
She helped research and write the recommendations that prompted the state agency to contract with NIU for educational services. It included the formation of the Education Access Project (EAP) and, eventually, the center.
With Freagon’s oversight, Baron-Jeffrey collaborated with the first three education advisers to develop the protocols and practices that provide the foundation and structure for the day-to-day operation of the EAP.
Together, they developed the center into a diverse, competent, experienced and effective team of educational consultants. She also partnered with NIU’s Information Technology Services to develop the center’s database, which feeds information into each ward’s educational passport.
With a recent focus on adoption diminishing the DCFS population from 55,000 to 18,000, Baron-Jeffrey plans to guide a similar shift at the center. She also hopes to extend services to children who have returned to their biological parents.
“I’d also like to strengthen services to youth in college” Baron-Jeffrey said. “There are almost 600 students in the DCFS Youth in College program. There are also a lot of college youth in independent living programs who don’t receive our services. I’d like to expand into those.”
Tollerud, a professor at NIU since 1990, has been involved in the educational and counseling fields for more than 35 years. She served as director of the Illinois School Counselors’ Academy from 1999 to 2004 and is past-president of the Illinois Counseling Association.
In 2005, Tollerud was a member of the committee that developed the Social/Emotional Learning Standards that now are part of the Illinois School Code.
She long has fought for children’s lives and their rights by counseling, authoring legislation and conducting workshops on issues including gender equity, youth and violence and eating disorders.
Her many honors include the 2001 Advocate of the Year Award from the American School Counselor Association, the 2006 Illinois Mental Health Counselors Distinguished Service Award and the 1996 Illinois Counseling Association Counselor of the Year.
Tollerud plans to help schools improve educational outcomes for wards of the state by working with counselors and social workers. The mission is “essential,” she said: Without it, some children in the DCFS system will become discouraged and drop out.
“Students sometimes are misdiagnosed and put into special education when the issue really is trauma,” she said. “Our goal is to continue to offer quality programs for children who are totally marginalized in our society.”
For more information, visit http://www.cedu.niu.edu/ccwe/.
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