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HELP Specialist Staff

Emily Alewine MSW, LISW (HELP Program Manager):

Emily is a Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW #19132) who received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and English from Hamline University and her Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of St. Thomas/ University of St. Catherine collaborative clinical focused social work program. In addition to extensive post-graduate training in trauma and attachment, she is a graduate of the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate (PACC) program through the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota and has completed the National Adoption Competency Child Welfare Training Initiative (NTI) through the Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work.

Since 2000, Emily has focused her career on working with children, teens and families touched by out-of-home placement, adoption and trauma, including roles in: Residential Treatment; Emergency Shelter; Pregnancy Services; Open Adoption and Post-Adoption Supportive Services. Since joining the HELP Program in 2013, she has helped develop a post-permanency focused program with far-reaching impact, both for caregivers as well as community professionals.

“I am committed and passionate about assisting children, teens, families, and the community at large, understand and navigate the complexities of adoption, foster care and kinship care.”

Heather Van Brunt M. Ed., LSW (HELP Program Specialist):

Heather has a M.Ed. in Counseling from North Dakota State University, a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Minnesota State University – Moorhead and is a Licensed Social Worker (LSW #10393).  In addition to extensive post-graduate training in trauma and attachment, she has graduated from the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate (PACC) program through the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota and completed the National Adoption Competency Child Welfare Training Initiative through the Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work.

Heather’s social work career started in 1993. Over the years the bulk of her work experiences have been within the adoption community intermingled with over five years spent living, teaching and traveling abroad from 2002-2007. Before coming to the HELP Program, her work focused on supporting birth and adoptive parents with grief, loss and open adoption relationships as well as educating and supporting parents adopting children with traumatic backgrounds and attachment disruptions. Heather joined the HELP Program in 2013.

She is passionate about providing empathy, professional guidance and hope to parents and caregivers. She values helping parents be heard and meet their child right where they are at given their child’s unique qualities, strengths and sometimes complex needs while doing the same for themselves and families as a whole.

“I have a deep respect for the beautiful and complex layers for all who are touched by the adoption process.  Children and families deserve skilled support throughout the different chapters of their experiences.”

Andrea Brubaker MSW, LISW (HELP Program Specialist):

Andrea holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Minnesota. During her time at the latter institution she was a Fellow in the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disorders program through which she worked with professionals in neurology, educational psychology, genetics, nursing, and social work to improve child welfare programs in Minnesota. Her work there earned her a certificate in Disability Policy and Services. During her studies, she also served as the Permanency and Adoption Intern at the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW).

Andrea is certified in Permanency and Adoption Competency (PACC) through the University of Minnesota and has co-trained that curriculum. She is also Trained in Adoption Competency (TAC) through the Center for Adoption Support and Education.

Before joining the MN ADOPT team Andrea served in a St. Paul Public Schools special education classroom, performed child welfare program evaluations for the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, and provided therapeutic services at a day treatment center. Andrea is passionate about social and racial justice issues in adoption and foster care.

“I am truly honored to be a part of the lives of families, and am enlivened by people’s capacity for kindness and compassion during challenging times.”

Gail Garner Swenson (HELP Program Specialist):

Gail earned both her B.A. in English Literature and her M.A. in Teaching English at Bethel University. She has used her training and experience as an educator within the adoption community both as a parent educator and co-leading workshops on adoption-related issues. Gail has continued her education through extensive ongoing training in attachment, trauma and adoption, including her completion in 2018 of the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative through the Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work.

Gail joined the HELP Program in March of 2018 with a long history of advocating for children and childhood. She has a number of direct professional experiences with those touched by adoption and out-of-home placement which contribute to her tapestry of skills, most recently as a long-time employee at Ampersand Families as a Permanency Specialist. From 2000 to 2014 she was a court appointed Guardian ad Litem for Ramsey County and she spent years as a member of the administrative team of Southside Family Nurturing Center, a family-centered program for the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

Her advocacy work has focused on: the prevention of child abuse and neglect, seeking family-focused solutions, older youth adoption, and providing education and support to parents around the issues of childhood trauma, grief, and attachment.

“I am motivated by my belief that childhood is a treasure; a foundational birthright to our human experience. My hope in providing skilled support to families is that childhood can be claimed and reclaimed for children and teens whose lives have been impacted by trauma, grief, and loss.”

Kelly Heagle, MA, LMFT, RPT (HELP Specialist):

Kelly has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy and a Play Therapy Certification from St. Mary’s University. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT #2458 ) and a Registered Play Therapist.

Kelly has worked with adoptive families in a variety of ways over the past decade including providing therapy services to families by adoption. She has extensive experience in trauma informed care as well as understanding the many systems that interact with adoptive families. She has worked in day treatment, school and community settings and has provided outpatient therapy. She is also an adoptive parent.

“Adoption holds a special place in my life and I understand intently the complexities and joys that make up adoptive families. I am passionate about listening well to families and their needs and connecting them to resources that will have meaningful impact for them and their children.”

Hannah Burton, MSW, LGSW (HELP Program: Post Adoption Navigator):

Hannah is a Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW # 21069) who received her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Bethel University and her Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Minnesota where she was also a Title IV-E child welfare scholar. Hannah brings a wide variety of professional experiences working with children and families in various settings which have provided her with a deep understanding of the challenges families and communities face when navigating resources and services.

Since 2011, Hannah’s work has focused on improving safety, wellness and stability for families, including: Domestic and sexual violence advocacy services and Parent Support Outreach Program case management, Children and Family Services program planning and evaluation, and most recently, in Child Protection Services.

In 2018, she completed the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training (NTI) through the Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work. Hannah brings a unique perspective and a valuable skill set to support children and families as they navigate the complexities of adoption.

“I am energized by the courage, tenacity and resilience that families show up with, to face each day. I believe in the immeasurable strength of a community and that we are better, together. It is my passion to increase accessibility and remove barriers to quality resources, services, and support for all families.”

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