Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s FireLodge Children & Family Services works to protect children and vulnerable adults who are at risk of being abused or neglected, providing services such as court advocacy, investigations, prevention services, parenting education, counseling, foster home approval and adoption. The four programs operated by FireLodge include Indian Child Welfare, foster care and adoption, family preservation and adult protective services.
The Hownikan spoke with four FireLodge employees to learn more about what they do and how FireLodge serves the CPN community. Cortney Newell is the Indian Child Welfare comprehensive case manager. Nancy Jasna works as an Indian Child Welfare case manager. Heather Calton serves FireLodge as the family preservation coordinator. Desiree Pickering, “the money lady,” is a program analyst who works with three different departments.
ICW comprehensive case manager
Cortney Newell is the Indian Child Welfare comprehensive case manager for FireLodge.
“The main thing that I do in my job is protect children,” she said.
More specifically, Newell assesses child safety through investigations, attends court hearings to make sure ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) is being followed and works alongside state child welfare workers around the country. She also helps families, referring parents to services where they can correct the behavior that caused a safety threat in the first place.
Newell is about to celebrate her first year of employment with FireLodge, where she started working in October 2022.
“Working for FireLodge means a lot to me,” she said. “I have been able to connect and learn so much. I am so thankful that I am able to use my ability to protect and help others.”
She also said she loves coming in to work with caring, helpful coworkers.
ICW case manager
Nancy Jansa started working as an Indian Child Welfare case manager for FireLodge in spring of 2022, but before that, she worked for six years in child welfare for the state of Oklahoma.
At FireLodge, Jasna said the team helps families alleviate crises that could lead to children being placed out of their home, provides support to families preparing to reunify or adopt, helps families find services that can support them, assesses child safety, investigates and assesses potential child abuse or neglect, visits children in their homes and home placements, and manages caseloads.
In addition, she said they all have knowledge of the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tribal Codes, and they prepare and maintain reports, case files and program records.
“We provide liaison between Native American clientele, the state DHS and the court system nationwide,” Jasna said.
They are also on call at all times for emergency reports of child abuse on CPN Tribal and Trust land.
“In this job, I might not make a difference in the world, but I can make a difference in the world for one family at a time,” Jasna said, adding that child welfare is often generational, and she hopes they can break that cycle.
She added that she works with an amazing team at FireLodge.
“I am very proud to work with such an amazing team. Director (Ashlee) May is an extremely admirable leader. I feel each member of our team brings something unique to our unit. We each have our own special way of working, our own little quirks, character traits, and our own personal strengths. This makes our team dynamic enjoyable, strong, close knit and successful,” she said.
ICW family preservation coordinator
Heather Calton signed on to the FireLodge team in February of 2022, and she works as a family preservation coordinator.
“I teach parenting classes, life skills, budgeting, and make referrals for clients to services they are in need of. I also do some community events throughout the year,” Calton said.
Calton is an infant child specialist with a master’s degree in family and child development. She comes to FireLodge from a background in the Department of Health Services, where she worked for 20 years. She said starting work with CPN has been a good change, and she loves working with Native families.
“I love working with families and helping them navigate through the difficult job of being a parent, especially in today’s world,” Calton said. “Working here, I have the honor of supporting Native families, giving them the tools to succeed, and giving them support as they work toward preserving their families.”
ICW program analyst
Desiree Pickering said her job is program analyst for FireLodge, Tribal Court and Adult Protective Services, “or ‘the money lady,’ as the judge calls me.”
Pickering does all check requests and purchasing, plus managing budgets and grants for Indian Child Welfare, Tribal Court and Adult Protective Services. In addition, she also handles some administrative tasks in those three departments.
She has worked for CPN for 12 years, mostly in ICW, but also for three years in the human resources department.
“I honestly feel like I just started my journey here yesterday, but here I just attended my 13th Family Reunion Festival,” Pickering said. “I’m thankful that I have had directors that have allowed me to grow professionally and personally and have always encouraged me to do what was best for myself and my family.”
She praised the four directors she has worked under: Janet Draper, Richard Brown, Ashlee May and Judge Lujan. Pickering has loved her time with CPN, in both departments, and has made many friendships and been a part of several committees and experiences she described as wonderful.
“I am also thankful for all the opportunities that I have been given here at the Nation and look forward to many more years,” she said.