"We pray for the children who never get dessert, who have no safe blanket to drag behind them, who watch their parents watch them die, who can't find bread to steal, who don't have any rooms to clean up, whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser, whose monsters are real.
"We pray for the children who want to be carried and for those who must, for those we never give up on and for those who don't get a second chance. For those we smother, and for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it."
While some offices are celebrating with picnics or open house tours of their division, the Child Protective Services office in Payson honors Child Abuse Prevention month by increasing the public's awareness of the devastating problem.
To that end, Grace Newman and her CPS colleagues at Payson's Arizona Department of Economic Security office are hosting the fifth annual Child Abuse Prevention Forum from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 20. The forum, which is free and open to the public, is co-hosted by the Court Appointed Special Advocates.
This year's theme is "Drugs' impact on our community." The purpose of the program, Newman said, is to spark an interest in the community and to let people know how they can end child abuse.
"Since December, we've had more infants taken into our program than ever," Newman said. "Part of the reason is drugs, and the parents' inability to deal with their children.
"The community needs to wake up. There's a real problem of abuse going on here."
During the three-hour program, a panel of speakers will present information about their organizations and the services they provide to families in trouble.
Speakers include Newman, psychologist Lorraine Fox-Shipley, Dr. Judith Hunt, therapist Darlene Duncan, foster parent Kathleen McManus, Rocky Casteneda of the Gila County Juvenile Probation Department, and counselor Dean Pederson of Payson High School. A representative from the Payson Police Department will also participate in the seminar.
Newman said when she moved to the Rim country from the Valley four years ago, she thought she was moving to a more peaceful community.
"It is a nice community," she said, "but we do have our share of problems. Our caseloads have gone up considerably."
People attending the forum will learn how drugs and child abuse are on the rise in the Rim country, which agencies are devoted to dealing with or ending child abuse, and how the public can help save a childhood.
For example, she said, many people don't know how to handle the situation when they observe a parent harshly reprimanding their child in public.
"There are no real guides on what to look for or what to do," she said. "You can usually tell if the parent is intentionally hurting their child. If they are, call the police." If it's then determined the parent was innocent, Newman said she would rather err on the side of the child.
"I think that's how most of us here feel, how most of our colleagues feel," she said.
Besides increasing their personal awareness, Newman said there were other ways to help.
"People can become CASA volunteers (child advocates in court), or they can become foster parents," she said. "Our greatest need is for foster homes for adolescent children."
To learn more about the effects of drugs and child abuse on the community, attend the forum Tuesday at the First Southern Baptist Church, 302 S. Ash St. in Payson.
State statistics on child abuse
* For the first nine months of FY 1998, there were 29,045 reports of child maltreatment received by Child Protective Services -- a 3.5-percent increase from the previous year.
- The number of children waiting in emergency shelters on Dec. 31, 1997 was 23 percent higher than the year before.
- At the end of March 1998, there were 6,304 children living in foster care.
- The rate of children in foster care increased 25 percent between 1991 and 1997. Today, five out of every 1,000 children in Arizona lives in foster care.
-- Statistics compiled by the Child Crisis Center-East Valley Inc.
Child abuse license plates
To help combat the growing number of child abuse cases in the state, the Child Crisis Center is asking Arizonans to support HB 2441, a bill that would establish a "child-focused" license plate for Arizona motorists.
The license plate, which would promote child abuse prevention, would be available to motorists for $25. Out of that cost, $17 would go to the Governor's Office for Children, and will be matched 60 cents on the dollar by the Arizona Republic McCormick Foundation.
The license plate bill is sitting in the State Senate, awaiting a third reading, before going back to the House for a final vote.
If approved, the special license plates could put a total of $191,250 into the state's child abuse prevention fund over the next three years.