Safe kids. Strong families. Two things that should be given in life, right? If only it were that simple.
In 2022, the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) investigated 45,327 reports of child abuse or neglect, resulting in 7,465 children and youth being removed from their families. Currently, over 11,500 children and youth in the state are in out-of-home care. DCS or Tribal Social Services, the child welfare agencies with the legal authority to remove children from their families, only do so when the maltreatment is so severe that it is simply not safe to leave the child in the home.
For foster youth nearing adulthood, the outcomes are dire. Each year, 23,000 young adults in the United States age out of the foster care system. On their 18th birthday, 20 percent are homeless and on the street. It is estimated that 70 percent of young people who become victims of human trafficking were in the child welfare system. In January 2020, Maricopa County estimated that 1,243 youth were living in the streets nightly, 17 percent of the homeless population and an increase of 83 percent from 2017 to 2020. Of these homeless youth, 44 percent identified as LGBTQ+.
A child does not have the capacity to leave abuse or neglect. Instead, that child must depend upon the intervention of caring adults to protect them. When DCS or Tribal Social Services remove a child or youth from their family for maltreatment, they are classified by both federal and state regulations as homeless. Children are in immediate need of shelter and nurturing care; therefore, these agencies turn to Child Crisis Arizona.
For more than 45 years, Child Crisis Arizona has served the Valley’s vulnerable children and families and is committed to preventing child abuse and neglect through education and intervention. “We do this through foster care and adoption services, early education, communitywide parenting classes, workshops, support groups and much more,” says Torrie Taj, CEO of Child Crisis Arizona. “Since 1977, we have impacted nearly 100,000 children and families.”
The organization also operates emergency shelters for children ages 2 through 10 who have experienced abuse or neglect. “These 24-hour shelters offer a safe haven for children with specially trained staff and volunteers who can provide comfort, care and support, medical care, counseling and attention to developmental delays. We also operate a group home for boys ages 10 to 18 in the foster care system and an independent living program for youth aging out of foster care, ages 18 to 21,” says Taj.
Child Crisis Arizona operates Safe Kids Maricopa County, which has been educating families about injury prevention and safe practices for more than 25 years, as well. “Our programs are focused with sound methodology behind them, and our staff is so very dedicated,” says Taj. “It is thanks in great part to them that we have not yet closed the chapter on 2023, but it has already been among the biggest years in the organization’s history.”
First, Child Crisis Arizona celebrated its milestone 45th annual gala this past spring, raising more than $1 million. In addition to this, the organization also broke ground on its planned 38,000-sq.-ft., climate-friendly, net-zero campus in Mesa. Spanning 2.4 acres, the two-story campus – with Architectural Resource Team partnering as its architect and CHASSE Building Team as its contractor – will be one of the first for any nonprofit in Arizona to put sustainability at the forefront and build for future generations.
“We have experienced unprecedented program growth especially in its early education programs. This growth meant our staff members and programs were sprinkled throughout the Valley as we didn’t have adequate space,” says Taj. “To give perspective, in 2022, across all programs, the agency served over 9,262 unduplicated individuals.”
The campus will offer additional program space for both Child Crisis Arizona and partner organizations to provide transformational programs. It will also centralize Child Crisis Arizona operations and leverage synergies with partner organizations.
Among the services that will be under one roof at its completion in 2024:
- Foster care and adoption services
- Family education
- Children’s counseling
- Health and wellness, including medical screenings and basic needs
- Centralized kitchen and food distribution
- Centralized administration and philanthropy
- Foster teen programs
- Art, dance, and music therapy
- Volunteer and staff training
- Collaborative partnerships
“Child Crisis Arizona is often the go-to resource provider for children and families in need,” says Bob Parsons, co-founder, The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation who recently announced a $1 million donation in the campus and Child Crisis’ operational costs. “Their new state-of-the-art campus will continue to improve how we take care of vulnerable children and families, offering hope and support when families need it most.”
According to Taj, there are several strategic collaborations planned once the campus is completed with such organizations as Ballet Arizona, United Food Bank, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona as well. “Partnerships like this with other organizations whose mission is to strengthen families means together we can assure that children, youth and families receive high-quality wraparound services in one location,” Taj says.
Both to support the campus and to ensure the organization can continue in its regular programs and mission, on Oct. 31 Child Crisis Arizona will host its annual Lunch for Love. “Lunch for Love provides an opportunity for Child Crisis Arizona’s board members and major donors to invite friends and colleagues to learn more about the organization’s mission and vision, and hear stories about the impact the agency’s prevention, intervention and education programs have on children, families and the community,” says Taj, noting the event will take place at the Arizona Biltmore Resort, and its goal is to raise a jaw-dropping $1 million in just one hour.
“We are also pleased to announce a save the date for our 46th Annual Gala, which will take place on March 9, 2024, at the Camelback Inn,” says Taj. “In addition to helping us raise critical funds, it is a big, beautiful, lively night of entertainment under the stars with a live and silent auction, games, music and much more.”
Taj and her team are currently actively working on live and silent auction donations, especially resort packages, vacations, spa days, wine packages, dining experiences and more. For more information, visit www.childcrisisaz.org.