In the Big World Of Courts and Controls
Children's Voices are small

Our Staff

Educational Advocate

Pat has more than 15 years' advocating for children. She was a Court Appointed Special Advocate in two states and was Arizona Court Appointed Advocate of the year, March 2006. Pat also served on the Foster Care Review Board and Governor Napolitano's Child Protective Services Reform Education Work-Group. She has been advocating as a Special Education Parent, appointed by the Courts or the Department of Education for children in the care of the Department of Child Safety Since 2003. Pat joined Defenders of Children in 2015.

Staff Attorney

Formerly a volunteer attorney with Defenders of Children for ten years, Mr. Robbins brings more than 30 years experience in family law to our client-families. His expertise is crucial to the client-families we serve, in guiding them through the maze and hoops of the legal system.

Vincent Guarnieri, MC

Donnalee Sarda, LPC

  • Protect children from ongoing violence or criminal mistreatment in their homes
  • Ensure children’s rights and entitlements are actualized
  • 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 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.

Read our book:

Child Advocacy 101

Behavioral Health Specialist

Donnalee Sarda’s 20 years working as a professional child advocate has been acknowledged by the Attorneys General of Arizona: In 2013 with the Victims’ Rights Advocacy- Direct Services Award; and during 2003 -2015 under both AG Tom Horne and AG Terry Goddard, serving on their Victims Rights Advocacy Committees. Sarda was appointed by AZ Governor Napolitano to the Legislative Domestic Relations Committee (DRC) from 2006 to 2012, filling the position of child advocacy agency. She served on the Reports Committee of the Governor’s Commission to Reform CPS from 2001 to 2003. At that time she gained the post of regional director of nonprofit Justice For Children-AZ, and transitioned to executive director of Defenders of Children until January 2015. She currently works as Project Director for Defenders, and as a state licensed counselor, utilizing her Masters Degree from ASU in 1996, and applying her family-court forensic knowledge to help families heal where possible, and help the children heal when not possible. 

In addition to working with client families, the staff liaisons with other non-profit organizations, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs), shelters, treatment centers and state and county officials concerned with child welfare. Defenders of Children works with families before, during and after court proceedings to ensure children's rights. Defenders of Children offers legal, forensic and expert witness services and referrals when children and their families have exhausted available resources through public and social service agencies, and yet the children still remain at risk (see Family or Legal Services). Defenders of Children also interfaces as an educational resource with such agencies as the Attorney General’s Office, AZ State Bar, Family and Juvenile Courts, the Department of Child Safety (DCS formerly CPS), State Legislators, and numerous non-governmental agencies.

Our in-house programs provide social services and limited-scope legal services, often court-ordered, for children and families whose cases we accept. Defenders of Children may provide family support and court-ordered services (counseling, mediation, supervision, therapeutic intervention aka reunification) with our own in-house team of qualified professionals when there is a compelling evidence that a child is at risk or family finances are exhausted.

Our Board of Directors

Executive Director

Vince is our new Executive Director.

Pat O'Connell

About Defenders of Children

Advisory Council

Carol A. Jacobson
Family Physician
Claire Bowey, MD

Educational Consultants

Tamara Ballou
Paige Frankel

Consulting Attorneys

Brittany Chavez, Esq.

Kelly-Ann Weimar, Esq.

Shelley Adams
Betty H. McRae

Merrill Robbins, Esq.

Child Advocacy 101

Consultant and Instructor

Dr. Chris Monaco holds two Masters Degrees and Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, with post-doctoral training in neuropsychology. She was in private practice for 16 years doing therapy, and psychological and neuropsychological evaluations. For seven years, Dr. Monaco served as the national spokesperson and Director of the National Child Abuse Hotline at Childhelp. She presented seminars and provided training throughout Arizona, the United States and abroad on Child Abuse, AD(H)D, Juvenile Fire Setters, Anger Management, Stress Management and Parenting.

Dr. Monaco taught graduate students for seven years at Northern Arizona University and one year at Arizona State University. She has been an Adjunct Professor for six years at Glendale Community College. Dr. Monaco is a published author. Since its inception, she has provided training for Defenders of Children Staff, been a Case Manager as well as an expert court witness. She again joins the staff at Defenders of Children.

Chris Monaco, Ph.D.

Defenders of Children Goals

Board Chair
John McAlister
Tara Bickford Bailey
Joanne McDonald

Members at Large

​Merrill Robbins, Esq.

Donnalee Sarda, LPC

David M. Lujan, Esq., former State Senator and Minority Leader, AZ House of Representatives