Ted Simons: Keeping children safe. Ask an expert is a special program that airs tonight at 8 p.m. on 8 Arizona PBS. During the show viewers can call in and talk for experts about issues pertaining to child abuse and human trafficking. Here to help preview tonight's program is Maricopa County juvenile court presiding judge Colleen NcNally. Thanks for being here.
Collen McNally: Thanks for having me.
Ted Simons: As an overview, what is child abuse? Define that term.
Collen McNally: Child abuse is defined by Arizona law as the hurting of a child. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse. Although it's a different phrase, child neglect. It's important to know that most of the cases that come to our court involve child neglect.
Ted Simons: Interesting. Has this definition of child abuse changed over the years?
Collen McNally: It has. The legislature has taken a look at it a few times and it's expanded in some respects. Child abuse often is mandatory reporters that are required to report any signs of child abuse when they see them. Most of those are people that have come into contact with children regularly like police officers, school teachers, nurses, doctors. Those sorts of people.
Ted Simons: As far as trends now in Arizona, do they mirror what's happening around the country? Are things a little bit different here signals child abuse, prevalence and the nature?
Collen McNally: What's going on in Arizona right now is different than the rest of the country. We have had huge growth in the reports of child abuse and neglect. A huge increase in the number of children who have been removed from their homes because their homes are not safe for them. What's interesting is that has happened in every County in Arizona but not in every state. Most states have a downward trend while we're going up.
Ted Simons: Do we know why?
Collen McNally: That's what everybody wants to know. We're trying to figure it out. Certainly there have been changes in the last few years in the funding for preventive services. That certainly is a factor playing into it. One of the things I started looking at was, are they just removing children they shouldn't be? Are we going to look at these petitions and say, there's an overreaction because there's a lot of publicity about it? As anecdotally I never saw. That there were very serious cases. Even though high majority, 90%, involve neglect, serious neglect, it's neglect of children's basic needs, food, clothing, medical care, educational needs.
Ted Simons: We hear that abuse is more likely by someone the child knows. Is that true?
Collen McNally: That's correct. There is a study of what was going on in Arizona, and 95% of the abuse is caused by family members or people in the home.
Ted Simons: So with that in mind if you're a neighbor, if you're a family member a bit removed, what are the signs you look for and when do you know that not only is something wrong but something needs to be reported?
Collen McNally: I think it's important for people to rely upon their common sense and their perception. Certainly if you see a child who has unexplained injuries, that's certainly a call that should be made, but I think it's important for everybody to realize in our community these are all our kids. If you're seeing children that aren't getting to school regularly, they are too young, not being supervised, when they are not having their basic cleanliness, hygiene needs, that may not be specifically neglect. All our kids get dirty, but if you see that as a trend it's okay to say, hey, maybe you should look at this.
Ted Simons: Certainly a red flag and something to keep an eye on, maybe make a call or two on.
Collen McNally: Absolutely.
Ted Simons: I know human trafficking is something we'll talk about in the show coming up here. In general, is that a problem we're seeing more of in recent years?
Collen McNally: We certainly are paying more attention to it. It's the kind of issue that is often hidden. The children who are victims of human trafficking often don't want to talk about it, so it could have been as prevalent earlier as it is now, but we're paying more attention. We're asking more questions. We're delving into it more to figure out who are these victims and what can we do to help them.
Ted Simons: Efforts very publicized efforts to overall Arizona's child welfare system. What are your thoughts?
Collen McNally: I think it's terrible that we have the kind of tragedies that were occurring by cases not being investigated and children not being seen after reports were made, but it's the kind of crisis that creates an opportunity and it's kind of exciting to see everybody coming around the new division of child safety and family services and figuring out how we can collaborate, how we can work together to improve things. There's a level of openness that I have never seen in our child welfare organization or system from director Flanagan, Charles Flanagan. He's brought a lot of energy and a lot of openness that I think will help improve things.
Ted Simons: He comes from the juvenile system.
Collen McNally: Yes, he was director of the juvenile department of corrections and he made a lot of substantial changes to that organization.
Ted Simons: Other states have similar problems. I have often mentioned, why aren't we looking at other states that might be handling the situation a little bit better than we are, which is not very difficult to imagine? Is that something that you think would be a wise idea? Until you get your feet on the ground, model yourself after someone else and take it from there.
Collen McNally: I think it's a good idea and I think there are efforts in that regard. What I have learned from the meetings I have attended with other stakeholders is that there's not a take off the shelf product in another state where we could just do everything they are doing and have a system that works, but there are several interventions and programs that are evidence based that we could take meaning that evidence based means they have been proven to be effective. Frankly, we haven't always looked at our programs and interventions in that way, so I really think we're taking a new look and we're going to approach that in a much more thoughtful manner.
Ted Simons: Is there something when you're presiding over these cases, listening to stuff over and over, is there something like one thing you think to yourself, I sure wish we would do this?
Collen McNally: Well, what we're finding the more we look at the parents of children who have been abused and neglected, overwhelmingly they have substance abuse, addiction dependence and mental illness, often untreated. It's really important that we take that step back to figure out what are the issues that need to be addressed there. Also to realize that when we really look closely at these folks, many of them were traumatized when they were young children, perhaps they didn't get the kind of care that they needed so they didn't learn how to parent the right way. If we don't address that we're going to look at continued problems with these children or the new children that they have down the road.
Ted Simons: You referred to this earlier regarding preventive family services, those things have to be stepped up, don't they?
Collen McNally: Absolutely. We need to be looking at connecting people to our communities even in a big urban place like Phoenix where we have lots of resources. People don't know where their family support center is where they can get advice and help with young children. They don't know they can ask for help themselves when they have a stumble in their substance abuse. Often it doesn't happen until there's a crisis and children have been harmed again.
Ted Simons: It sounds, the overhauling of the system, you sound optimistic.
Collen McNally: I'm more optimistic than I have ever been. I represented DFS more than 20 years ago. Some things have improved but there is a lot to be done and I'm very optimistic we'll get there.
Ted Simons: Thank you for be here.
Collen McNally: Thank you.
Ted Simons: An update on what could be an early wildfire season in the state and we'll learn more about a new report critical of the governor's moratorium on the new regulations. That's Tuesday evening at 5:30 and 10 on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.