A Child's Safety Is An Adult's Job, Foster Parents Needed


Approximately once a week an abused child or youth sits in a room at Gila Family Advocacy Center with forensic interviewer Christy Walton.

During the interview, Walton tries to gently ask prying questions that may lead to prosecution of the abuser.


Christy Walton, program director and forensic interviewer for the Gila Family Advocacy Center; Katrisha Stuler, Court Appointed Special Advocate director in Payson; and Kelli Schuttinga, foster care licensing specialist with Arizona's Children Association work to make a difference for children at risk.

"I think one child abused is too many," Walton said.

Callers reporting suspected child abuse to law enforcement and Arizona's hotline totaled 36,000 from April 1, 2005 to March 31, 2006, or just below 100 calls per day.

The law requires CPS to investigate appropriate reports of suspected child abuse or neglect.

The county attorney's office prosecuted nine felony cases of child abuse in Payson in 2007.

"That number does not include other cases where the larger portion of the case was for another more significant charge," Daisy Flores, Gila County attorney said.

Possible indicators of abuse

  • Children who exhibit negative behavior changes such as anger outbursts, withdrawal, crying for no apparent reason or a change in attitude toward a person or activity;
  • Increased interest in school or homework, sudden involvement in after school activities and being more polite or helpful than usual;
  • Regressive behavior
  • Fear of certain people or places;
  • New words for private body parts;
  • Unexplained bruises, redness or other symptoms.

Adults or older children who insist on tickling, hugging or touching a child when it seems inappropriate to do so or the child seems to be uncomfortable is another possible indicator of abuse according to a flyer form the Gila Family Advocacy Center.

Adults who always offer to "help out" by watching a child or suggest overnight stays, give gifts often for no apparent reason, do not show respect for a child's privacy, seems to prefer the company of children rather than their own age group and has an interest in pornography are other possible indicators of abuse.

"Being abused or neglected as a child increases the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 53 percent and the likelihood of arrest for a violent crime as a adult by 38 percent," according to a 2007 report by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The Crimes Against Children Research Center reported that 29 percent of rapes occur prior to age 12.

Statistics only come from reported cases.

Closer to home

Countywide, child abuse cases where Child Protective Services removed youths from the home more than doubled from 2005 to 2006, then just about doubled again in 2007 according to Kelli Schuttinga. She is a foster care licensing specialist with Arizona's Children Association's Payson office.

"The top three reasons for removal are neglect, abandonment and physical abuse," Schuttinga said.

In Gila County, there are currently 64 beds in 26 homes for foster children.

"The dire need is for foster homes that will take teenagers. There is a fear of teens and all that their care entails, but a lot of times, these are good kids from bad situations and environments," Schuttinga said.

It is preferable for a child be placed first in a safe environment close to home so they are not completely ripped-out of their lives with friends and school.

It can be stressful or traumatic for an adult who moves to a new home or city willingly.

"Imagine someone picks you up from school and moves you to a house you have never been before and you have probably left all of your personal belongings behind," Katrisha Stuler, CASA director said.

In small communities especially, friends and family want to know the whys of the situation making it hard for the child to maintain dignity.

If no foster home can be found in town, youths may be placed in another county.

"That is when the problems really begin for teens because they have been removed from their school, friends and support systems," Schuttinga said.

A foster parent training panel will address what information is most needed by foster parents about the children in their care and what is the best format for information to be received and presented.

Foster parents and those considering becoming foster parents are invited to attend and ask questions of representatives from CPS, CASA, the Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents, a long-time local foster parent and a therapist.

The training is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., April 16 at the LDS Church, 913 S. Ponderosa, Payson. Childcare will be provided, but attendees should bring their own lunch.

There is hope

"GFAC, CASA, ACA, CPS, the mental health, court and law enforcement community has improved and increased cooperation, making sure that all that is possible is being done for victims of abuse," Walton said.

The year that GFAC has been open is not long enough to see trends, but the center is tracking cases and Walton believes the center has had a positive impact on the community.

Walton is available to help groups schedule presentations on topics relating to the prevention of child abuse and domestic violence.

Kids Count, a working paper sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count program, looked at the health, social and emotional well-being, cognitive development and educational attainment, family activities, family and neighborhood context and social and economic characteristics of children from low-income families. Then, as they have done since 1990, ranked the overall health of children in the 50 states. Arizona fell in the mid range.

Pediatric physician and Canadian professor Jean Labbe's 2008 paper on the history of child abuses in the Western world convinced him that "... not only did child maltreatment exist in past centuries in the Western world, but that it was even worse than what we are confronted with today."

Labbe attributes the decline in maltreatment because society's attitudes toward children have changed and there has been a "general improvement in living conditions.

Arizona's toll-free number to report abuse is (888) SOS-CHILD or (888) 767-2445.

The FAQs page online at www.azdes.

gov/dcyf/default.asp has more information on foster care.

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