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Amberly's Place advocate Schneider retires

Amberly's Place recently said goodbye to a lifelong advocate of children in Yuma County. Charles “Chip” Schneider, the advocacy center's first and only children’s justice project coordinator, has retired.

“Chip has done this job for over 11 years because of his desire to see children succeed. He realizes it takes more than the parents in today’s world. His mandated reporter presentations has been the starting point for many children going to law enforcement for help. I am thankful to have worked with this man and he will be greatly missed,” said Diane Umphress, executive director of Amberly’s Place, an advocacy center for abuse victims.

Back in 1990, the federal government released money for the Children’s Justice Project, which was designed to get law enforcement, county attorneys and child protective services as well as advocates into the schools and daycares to talk about mandated child abuse reporting to teachers and other people required by law to report child abuse.

“Only one in 10 children ever report abuse and it was hoped that teaching about the signs and symptoms to those who care for our children would help increase reports of abuse,” Umphress said.

She explained that historically teachers and other mandated reporters have hesitated to report suspected abuse for fear of being sued by the parents or being wrong and losing their jobs.

Since then Yuma County has had a children’s justice project coordinator who sets up trainings for schools and groups. Yuma County is the only county in the state that still has a CJP coordinator and a multidisciplinary team which goes into the community to train others on this issue.

The center hired Schneider, a retired Kofa High School principal, to fill the position in 2007. The team was having difficulty getting into Yuma schools.

“Principals didn’t think that the time for the training was very valuable and they could have one staff member instead give a brief training on the laws,” Umphress recalled.

Schneider, as a former administrator, understood the liability of a school not reporting abuse as required by law. He had many meetings with his former peers and was able to impress on them the importance of this training.

“When Chip became the CJP coordinator, not only did trainings increase, reports of abuse have increased as well,” Umphress said.

For the last 11 years Schneider has coordinated and headed up this team. “His expertise and compassion for children has made this the most successful CJP program in Arizona. No other coordinator has been able to keep a team together and presenting. Everywhere the team goes people remember Mr. Schneider from Kofa,” she added.

Teachers come to Yuma from all over the country and the laws for reporting abuse are not the same in every state. That’s why “it is imperative that new teachers have this training.”

To show how training makes a difference, she related one teacher’s experience. “One high school teacher reported a student coming in with a black eye one day. When she asked what happened, he laughed and said his mom hit him. She thought he was joking,” Umphress said.

“After the training she realized it was a mandated reporting issue and found out that this young man was being physically abused at home. People just don’t think of abuse happening to older children, and it does.”

Umphress pointed out that Schneider has never stopped being involved in the community and with youth, whether it’s in academics or abuse. For years he has been conducting discipline hearings for District One and Crane District.

“I had three sons go to Kofa, and the first one graduated in the ‘90s and the last in 2002, and Chip was there. When he came to work for Amberly’s Place, I told him he had to stay here working until he has been in my office as many times as I was in his. This has been our standing joke. I guess he finally hit the magic number,” Umphress quipped.

Schneider plans to move to Scottsdale to be closer to his grandkids. Speaking to the Board of Supervisors, he said he was tired of hearing about the things his grandkids do. “I want be to be there to see them do their activities.”

“He has been a huge part of this community for over 36 years,” Umphress said. “This is a huge loss for Yuma County youth. The CJP project will go on but won’t have the same drive behind it.”

“The purpose of the team is to have that expertise there that can answer questions from each agency and the legal impact of reporting,” Umphress said.

Yuma County Attorney Jon Smith is part of this team and has instructed thousands of mandated reporters over the years, explaining that someone can’t be sued for reporting suspected abuse in good faith.

A representative of the Arizona Department of Child Safety is part of this panel and has the duty of explaining what the agency does when a report is made.

“Depending on the abuse/neglect, it doesn’t always mean a child is taken out of the home. There could be other options. The law enforcement officers let them know how the investigation will be handled and what information to provide to a parent,” Umphress said.

This team has been a “vital” part of Amberly’s Place for the last 17 years, encouraging people to report suspected abuse. Once a presentation is given to a school or business, generally reports start to come in from those locations, Umphress said.

“This training is free and very important,” she noted, adding that mandated reporters are getting accurate facts from the experts.

A mandated reporter is anyone who has care and custody of a minor child, such as a sports coach, scout leader and church teacher.

For more information or help, call Amberly’s Place at (928) 373-0849. The helpline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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