​Johanna Fierstein, Executive Director 

Jami Cornish, Esq., Director of Legal Services

Sue Ann Springer, Senior Paralegal

Sharla Denton, LPC, Therapist, Trauma Expert

Annette Ruskin, LCSW, Volunteer Therapist, Forensics Expert (bilingual English/Spanish)

Liz Avila, MSW, Helpline Advocate (bilingual English/Spanish)

Joanne McDonald, Chief Financial Officer​

Pat O'Connell, Educational Advocate

Kayleigh Ferguson, MSW Candidate, ​​Parenting Time Supervisor

Melissa Gramse, LexisNexis Certified, Volunteer Legal Research Aide


In addition to working with client families, the staff liaises with other non-profit organizations, such as residential treatment centers, along with state and county officials concerned with children's welfare. Defenders of Children works with families to provide information and referrals, and  social services including trauma-informed, free counseling for victims. Defenders offers legal services for client-families that meet our criteria,  and possible forensic and expert witness services when children and their families have exhausted available resources through public service groups, and yet the children still remain at risk (see Family or Legal Services). Defenders of Children also interfaces as needed with such agencies as the Attorney General’s Office, AZ State Bar, Family and Juvenile Courts, the Department of Child Safety, and State Legislators.

About Defenders of Children

Child Advocacy 101

Defenders of Children's goals


Read our book:

Child Advocacy 101

Our Board of Directors


This project is supported in part by Grant No. 2016-VA-GX-0046 from the US Department of Justice-Office for Victims of Crime. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US DOJ or the Arizona Department of Public Safety. 

​​​​​Defenders of Children delivers services and employs without regard for race, religion, color, sex, age, marital status, disability, citizenship, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or national origin. If you believe you have been discriminated against, please email our Civil Rights Contact, at jcornish@defendersofchildren.org for assistance.

Wendy Smith-Lowe, Secretary
Diane Finkelstein, Treasurer, Board Chair
Joanne McDonald, Member

  • Protect children from ongoing abuse or criminal mistreatment in their homes
  • Ensure children receive the rights to which they are entitled
  • Assist adult and child victims of family violence in Relearning Relationships©, healing the family unit
  • Identify and address inadequacies in the child protection and legal systems as they come to our attention
  • Bring about beneficial changes in those systems by encouraging positive changes in guidelines, protocols, and laws to ensure the safety and well-being of children
  • Conduct educational trainings for the community and professionals involved in child protection, welfare and children’s legal issues
  • Ensure safety in all areas of children’s lives, where they live and where they congregate: family situations, school playgrounds, internet chat rooms, etc.