State Children's Group Opens Payson Office

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The Arizona's Children Association opened its doors the day after Christmas to better meet the needs of the six families they currently serve and the 12 families now in various stages of becoming licensed foster parents.

ACA contracts with Child Protective Services to handle foster care and adoption programs in Arizona and with Cenpatico for outpatient behavioral health programs.

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During the course of their grand opening Jan. 11, Arizona Children's Association welcomed people representing community resources, including the Gila County Juvenile Probation and Payson Police departments, Court Appointed Special Advocates, Gila County Advocacy Center and Time Out.

ACA has had Payson staff, working sporadically out of their homes, for about six months. Early in December 2007, ACA decided they needed an office.

Now, five social service providers now have cubicles in suite J at 100 N. Beeline Highway, Payson. Kelli Schuttinga, foster licensing specialist, Pam Cirski, counselor, Abigail Pederson, therapeutic foster specialist, Jessica Strickland and Chrissy Thornton, family resource assistants and Myra Tanner, receptionist, comprise the staff in Payson.

A nurse practitioner will come to Payson from the regional office in Apache Junction, to provide assessments and ongoing medication services.

"Four more people could join the staff by summer," Schuttinga said.

Families get referrals to ACA in several situations.

When Child Protective Services identifies a home that is at high risk for having a child or children removed ACA sends a clinician and a behavioral management specialist to work hands on with the family for six months.

This team offers behavior management skills, coaching, job searching, whatever a particular family might need to reduce their risk, Bonnie Slater, ACA regional director said.

In the future ACA hopes to add parenting classes and substance abuse education to the services they offer in Payson.

Foster parents needed

"What we really need are several dozen more homes willing to take in older teens so they won't have to be placed out of their community in the Valley or Casa Grande," Bonnie Slater, ACA regional director said.

"We want to keep children where their natural support systems are," she added.

ACA staff provides special training to foster parents with children with behavior issues.

"We have recruited homes to take a child with acute needs, with the idea that over a period of six to 12 months the child will become stabilized and the behaviors that have prevented him or her from functioning elsewhere in the community will be under control," Slater said.

Sometimes, the foster care program in another state sends a child to Arizona to foster with a grandparent or a relative.

"We monitor that child through the Interstate compact for the placement of children," Schuttinga said.

Arizona's Children Association was founded in Tucson in 1912. Then, the organization was called Arizona Children's Home. It functioned as the state's first orphanage.

"Protecting Children. Preserving Families," is the association's simply put mission.

Each year, ACA serves more than 44,000 children and their families in all 15 Arizona counties.

Visit www.arizonaschildren.org to learn more about this charitable organization.

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