Where did this idea come from?
From a few different things: I'm a mother, divorced, doing the parent thing, and as a mother, you have certain instincts to protect your children from dangerous elements. My mom also went back to school and got her teaching degree and was surprised to read that teachers were mandated to report suspected child abuse, but don't really receive enough information to explain how they're suppose to report that. The No. 1 reason I thought it was important to provide more information for teachers like my mom is that I was sexually assaulted as a teen. I wished someone had recognized what I was going through. There are signs, like depression and grades dropping, that make it obvious something is happening. That's what was happening to me.
You don't work in this field or have experience working with children who are abused or neglected. What did you do first?
There are so many people who have so much to offer in Tucson. I went to (former) Chief Richard Miranda with the Tucson Police Department. He was a good resource and helped me find other people. I turned to the Pima County Sheriff's Department and the South Tucson Police Department, who have good experience working on meth issues in Tucson. They all had something they wanted to include in the training. I found Caroline Tompkins from the Southern Arizona Children's Advocacy Center, and Cynthia Flores, a forensic-interview expert, one of only a few people locally trained to talk to children about abuse. I also came in contact with (Deputy Pima County Attorney) Susan Eazer, who was extremely helpful. Every time I talked to someone, I'd discover another person I needed to include or a topic that needed to be in the training.
How did the first class go on July 26?
We had 25 people registered, mostly teachers, but our most enthusiastic person there was a bus driver. We heard from several court-appointed special advocates that now they understood the process that took place before they were appointed to the case. We had people from the Vail, Sahuarita and Tucson Unified school districts, and two charter schools. We heard from teachers that they didn't really understand the law, and that they didn't know they could be brought up on charges if they failed to report suspected abuse.
During the class, what struck you most?
It was interesting to see everyone from different areas in the community come together to teach this class, and some had differences in how they looked at abuse and how to report abuse. It helped them figure out those differences before teaching the class, and brought everyone onto one page.
What's different about the Aug. 23 class?
We'll be able to ... go to 150 people, and really anyone who cares about children can come. If you're a teacher, it counts for continuing-education credit. What shocked me was how much this training is desperately needed. Teachers need to do what's best for their students, but in order for it to be a valid claim, and not destroy the investigation, by law, they are allowed to only ask four questions: What happened; who did it; where were you when it happened; and when did it happen? But they have to ask very directly. I'm really hoping teachers come out of (the training) feeling like they are part of the team ... and they are not scared about what is going to happen once they've made a report.
We don't always realize that, often, a teacher is the only link a child has to the outside world. Because of that, I know there's more we can do. I'd really like to do training in Spanish, and do more on drug abuse--not just (drug abuse by) kids, but recognizing drug abuse in parents. But I do want to make it clear that many of the people who came together have been doing their own education courses for quite a while. This just happens to be the first time that they've all come together.