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Ellen Case reminds CACs and nonprofits, “We can’t work in silos”

Ellen Case

Ellen Case works from her office in Rochester as the Program Coordinator of the Mayo Child and Family Advocacy Center, an off-campus location from the world-renowned clinic it shares its name with. Case is enthused about the work underway with the Minnesota Children’s Alliance, along with all of Minnesota’s Child Advocacy Centers and partners. “Fostering children’s safety means looking out for a vulnerable population that deserves our committed passion and providing space for support and healing”.

Born and raised in North Dakota, Case came to Minnesota at the age of eighteen for her undergraduate studies at St. Scholastica in Duluth and later at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul for her graduate work, each time studying social work. Her entire career was borne out of those studies, starting at a small non-profit organization working alongside families with children with disabilities. Twenty-seven years ago, she began working at Mayo Clinic as a pediatric social worker. There she counseled children and their families with serious medical issues, trauma, and even organ transplants. As Case describes it, she’s “coming full circle”, as she started working with the Child Advocacy Center that was recently established by Mayo in Rochester, Minnesota three years ago.

Case says, “Now is such a critical time, considering the national environment. It’s very concerning to see what’s proposed in some state and national budgets. There will be a potential ripple effect for the work we do with children and families.”

The potential budget cuts facing many organizations across the country can push many organizations, particularly those sharing a small set of funds, into fierce competition. Case stresses “the importance of collegiality,” adding, “We’re all on the same side, serving the same mission. That’s my primary message to everyone. I know that’s sometimes challenging when we’re competing for the same grant dollars, but we must realize we’re all on the same team facing the same problems. Even if my CAC doesn’t get a grant, it’s still good for Minnesota and Minnesota families if another one does.”

Case is one of two members on the Alliance board in place to represent the needs of Child Advocacy Centers across Minnesota. “The Alliance has done a lot of phenomenal work,” she says, citing, “Our ability to work our way on to the state’s legislative radar has shown a lot of movement. That’s primarily due to [Executive Director] Marcia [Milliken’s] work. It’s endless hours at the State Capitol getting the ears of legislators. Now there’s funding and recognition for our CACs, and our agenda gets recognized as important to helping families and the way CACs work.”

“I’ve been on the board for almost two years now and was nominated by other CAC members. I’ve seen a lot of growth since then. A couple of years ago there were seven CACs, now there are twelve. When I started, many CAC directors helped mentor me, as well as Marcia, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Children’s Alliance. Now that I have a few years under my belt, I’ve been able to pass that knowledge along to our newest CACs,” says Case.

“For child welfare, we continue to see the need for ongoing collaboration amongst community partners”, she says. “We need the ability to speak across party lines regarding the safety of children. That’s the whole mission of CACs, that we don’t work in silos,” she says. “The intent of recent state human service commendations is around ensuring the safety of children. If we can avoid getting stuck in the weeds or focusing on workarounds to hard problems, we’ll all be better off. “

Case says. “I’m pretty good in relationship building. That’s critical now as ever at the state and local level.” Reflecting on the work she’s done and yet to do, Case says, “I think that my clinical social work background is helpful in what I can contribute on the Minnesota Children’s Alliance Board as well as at our local Children’s Advocacy Center.” Case says, “It is such a privilege to serve on this Board with such amazing people that share a vision for the health and welfare of children and families.”