Six state employees whose job is to advocate for children and families who deal with some of life's hard knocks that most Utahns never face have received special recognition by the state Division of Child and Family Services.

The 2008 Heart of Gold Awards were given in recognition of efforts for staff collaboration, innovative approaches with new referrals, improving overall practices, support through what can be traumatic life-changing events and consistent positive representation of the agency.

Recipients are:

• Sheri Morris was cited for her ongoing compassion, empathy and remembering little things like birthdays and gifts for adoptive parents.

• Vedrana Ilic, who has been with DCFS for just 13 months, was recognized for her quick learning of case protocol and for diligently advocating for her clients at all times.

• Melinda Leonard, who has also been with DCFS just over a year, was singled out for her work with children in state foster care who are transitioning out of the system as adults.

• Stefanie Neeley, a caseworker supervisor, was recognized for her ongoing compassion toward family members of children who have been taken into the state foster care system.

• Christine Peasley, a caseworker supervisor, was cited for her thorough understanding of the best practices model in the division and for her innovative approach with families.

• Program administrator Roland Oliver was recognized for his partnering and community outreach efforts, specifically for arranging job interviews for foster teens transitioning out of the child protection system.