Each candidate for this year’s James R. Ryan Achievement Award will be profiled daily during the voting process.  The comments featured in the finalist profile were submitted as part of the nomination process, and have not been edited or altered by WI-AIMH (except to preserve confidentiality when needed).

For an overview of all finalists, click here.

The winner of the James R. Ryan Achievement Award will be selected by vote.  WI-AIMH Members can use their, emailed, private link to vote for the finalist of their choice.  Interested members will be able to vote until Friday, February 23, 2018.  Each member may cast one vote.


Name: Staci Sontoski
Position/title/Employer: Home Visiting Program Manager, UW Milwaukee Child Welfare Partnership (MCWP)

Nomination Comments:

Staci Sontoski

Staci has been actively engaged in the promotion of Infant Mental Health, in a variety of ways, for years. She has helped build awareness and promoted professional capacity for Infant Mental Health, fostered cross sector partnerships that support Infant Mental Health and worked to support policies and best practices in the interest of infants, young children and their families in the following ways.

She became both a Pyramid Model and Positive Solutions for Families trainer over six years ago. She was the facilitator for the southeast region of the Pyramid Model Community of Practice and remains a member of the Pyramid Model state leadership team. Staci was also active in a statewide work team to adapt the Pyramid Model to home visiting programs, as well.
As part of her own professional development, Staci completed the UW Madison Infant, Early Childhood, Family and Mental Health Capstone Certificate program, so that she could be more effective at building awareness for and promoting professional capacity for Infant Mental Health across sectors. As a ‘systems thinker’, she continuously strives to bring professionals from different sectors together to achieve common goals. She has been promoting the Infant Mental Health Endorsement process among several groups:

1. UW Milwaukee Child Welfare Partnership’s (MCWP) Home Visiting Training and Technical Assistance program’s statewide Training and Technical Assistance Workgroup, which represents diverse early childhood sectors
2. Milwaukee Succeeds cradle to career initiative’s Social Emotional work team (for which she is cochair)
3. Home visiting program teams throughout the state and the
4. Southeast (SE) chapter of the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health
Staci felt it was important to acknowledge home visiting program teams that complete the Infant Mental Health Endorsement process, so the Milwaukee Child Welfare Partnership provides recognition for these programs at the annual home visiting conference, Fulfilling the Promise.

As co-lead of the Milwaukee Succeeds Social Emotional work group, the group focuses on best practices related to social emotional development of young children and policy recommendations to enhance the social emotional well-being of infants, young children and families. She recently joined a statewide group of professionals looking at ways to encourage the promotion of infant mental health across systems, as well.

Staci has built such strong partnerships across sectors, that when she co-authored a grant to start a southeast regional chapter of the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health, she received almost thirty letters of support! The grant, awarded in 2016, supported the start-up costs for the eight-county chapter of WI AIMH in the southeast region of the state. Staci serves as the Vice-President of the new Chapter.

The chapter’s leadership team made the decision in Fall 2017, to support IMH-Endorsement among its members, by providing scholarship funds to reimburse members who complete the Endorsement process between Oct. 2017 and March 2018. The chapter’s leadership team has also hosted an IMH Endorsement education event, to help its members better understand the IMH Endorsement process.

Through her role as manager of the statewide Home Visiting Training and Technical Assistance Program, she keeps infant mental health a priority for training participants. A professional development needs assessment survey identified a gap in training for home visitors and family support professionals related to the social-emotional development of young children. Staci and Lana developed and piloted a full-day workshop in 2016, with great feedback from the participants. Currently, our program offers the Early Childhood Development workshop twice yearly to home visitors and other early childhood professionals. She has also added PIWI Parent Child Interaction Coaching and Positive Solutions to our training calendar since she assumed her managerial role. In 2017, through a grant, she brought trainers from Brazelton’s Touchpoint Center to Milwaukee to provide the Touchpoints training to a group representing cross sector programs supporting families with young children. In the grant proposal, Staci also included opportunities for several trainers to become statewide Touchpoints trainers. The UW Milwaukee Child Welfare Partnership will offer its first Touchpoints training in June 2018. Brazelton’s Touchpoints approach supports and complements all of the principles of infant mental health.

Staci collaborated with Lana Nenide to provide PIWI training to adolescent mothers in foster care in Milwaukee County. The program was so successful that they co-authored a Zero to Three-journal article about the program, published several years ago. In 2017, she and Sandy Ellis provided PIWI workshops and coaching to mothers of young children in a transitional living program and their program staff.
In 2017, Staci committed to identifying the IMH-Endorsement competencies for all of our program’s regularly offered professional development workshops. By identifying these competencies in our new training course catalogue, professionals are encouraged to think about their path to achieve IMHEndorsement and they can make decisions about their professional development, based on their professional goals and trajectory.

Staci’s work on local, regional and statewide levels make her an ideal recipient of the James R. Ryan memorial award!

About the James R. Ryan Achievement Award

James R. Ryan

The James R. Ryan Achievement Award is given by the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health (WI-AIMH) to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the social-emotional development of infants, young children and their families within a Wisconsin community, thus demonstrating a commitment to the mission and vision of WI-AIMH:

Vision: We aim for all Wisconsin infants and young children to reach their fullest potential through nurturing and consistent relationships within the context of family, community, and culture.

Mission: WI-AIMH strives to promote infant mental health through building awareness, promoting professional capacity, fostering partnerships and supporting policies in the best interest of infants, young children and their families.