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Non-profit Fills Void for Understaffed Child Protective Services

August 7, 2009

Phoenix, AZ - Deep state budget deficits have produced a shortage of 350 caseworkers within Arizona Child Protective Services (CPS), and left the state agency unable to investigate every allegation of child abuse or neglect.

Donnalee Sarda, director of the non-profit Defenders of Children, says her organization now investigates the lower-priority cases CPS doesn't take. But, she says, low-priority does not mean low-importance.

"Everyone remembers the high-profile story here of kids in cages. It was originally a neglect call, but those kinds of calls right now are being turned away, and they can be the most-serious."

Sarda says there are times when persistence can persuade CPS to reconsider certain abuse and neglect cases.

"There's a good Yiddish word called a "nudge." We're nudges. We find very effective ways to call CPS. Sometimes things can get handled there, and if that doesn't work and we have solid evidence, we'll take it into court."

Defenders of Children can't legally remove children from abusive homes. Only the courts, police and CPS have that authority. But Sarda says for some kids, her organization may be their only hope.

"Imagine having some interface with the system and then having the system walk away. You're a 12-year-old and you did the right thing. You told. But, the perpetrator's back in the home, or you're back in the home with the perpetrator. These are situations of ongoing abuse."

Defenders of Children typically serves 350 children a year, taking only cases documented through police and medical reports, and utilizing a volunteer team of lawyers and psychologists. Sarda says, when parents and government fail to prevent child abuse, it's up to society in general and organizations like hers to meet the need.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ