By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Last month, Laurie and her attorney, Alan Simpson, appeared on the syndicated Montel Williams Show. She told Williams she'd had sex with more than three dozen men--including many policemen--at her husband's request.
"It was brainwashing," she said. "I didn't enjoy it . . . I was always afraid that I'd pick up the wrong person."
Attorney Simpson said Laurie had "jumped through hoops" to get her kids back, and they are now at the center of her life. That drew applause from the studio audience.
Laurie avoided describing exactly what she had done to get into trouble with the law until host Williams pressed a little.
"The daughter was just once," Simpson explained, referring to the number of parent-daughter pornographic photo sessions. "Unbeknownst to Laurie, her husband was grooming [their daughter]."
But Simpson didn't stop. If the girl was going to pose for nude pictures, he said, "Wouldn't it be better if her father took them?"
Laurie Elliget nodded.
The audience gasped.
A few started booing.
Williams cut to a commercial.
@body:The Child Protective Services caseworkers--actually three current employees and one retired supervisor--have agreed to speak with an outsider.
If their bosses knew what they were up to, they could lose their jobs. But they want to tell their stories, stipulating only that they won't discuss specific cases and must be given pseudonyms when quoted in print.
Between them, they have 41 years' experience in the child-welfare business. Each of them is frustrated on several levels--with the job, with the employer and with the public for thinking the worst of them even when they've done their best. The caseworkers admit to having a siege mentality.
Jerry quit as a CPS supervisor a few years ago, and is working in another capacity with the state. He recalls his first days with the agency almost wistfully.
"I was the original white knight, gonna save the world," says Jerry in a round-table discussion at the rear of a Tempe coffee house. "After a while, I guess, I just got burned out by the whole thing."
One reason, Jerry says, was CPS' aim of reunifying children with all but Arizona's most troubled parents.
"I was part of the problem; we're all part of it," Jerry says, as his former colleagues nod vigorously. "I could cite you chapter and verse about times when I went with the regs [regulations] instead of my heart, and it was a mistake."
The discussion turns to comments made in a separate interview by Juvenile Court Judge John Foreman, who has a reputation as a staunch pro-child jurist.
Said Foreman: "There are lots of cases where I have said, 'Let's not Mickey Mouse around. There is no way this family is ever going to get itself back together.' In a lot of cases, there was never any family in the first place. They [caseworkers] look at me, bow their head and walk out. I hope some of them think about it."
A soft-spoken caseworker named Joyce says she does think about it--constantly.
"A lot of us have families ourselves, and we know how hard things can be," she says. "But there's a line somewhere between a momentary lapse in judgment and a pattern of abuse and neglect. Most of us intuitively know when it's been crossed."
Elaine says her job has its rewarding moments. But her upbeat mood lasts only a moment.
"It's good sometimes," she says, "like when you see a family trying hard to get it together, making strides. But it's such an uphill struggle at work that I can smell burnout in my future, too."
Everyone chuckles. The three current caseworkers earn less than $30,000 per year, and work long hours under unceasing pressure.
A portion of an interview with Mary Beth Seader, a vice president at the Washington, D.C.-based National Council for Adoption, is read to the caseworkers: "That Arizona can't tell you how many reunified families go back into the system is typical. They don't want to be held accountable. They're pushing this reunification thing, and they've got nothing to support it. And they use confidentiality and public ignorance as a shield against criticism."
Elaine takes a long drag on her cigarette.
"That's very true," she says, "and we all know it. But people come at us from all angles---[either] we're taking kids out like the Gestapo or we're blind to abuse and neglect. I've heard parents whose cases I know personally go to the legislature and lie through their teeth. And I've had to take it."
The group is talked out after almost two hours. Jerry--pleased to say he's a former CPS employee--gets the last word.
"At CPS, it's crisis mentality at all times," he says. "Supervisors, including me, worried about their butts, caseworkers wondering constantly when the roof was gonna cave in. Nonstop bullshit."
@body:On March 12, 1991, Phoenix police responded to a 911 call reporting that an infant was choking. What they found at the home of sisters Adela and Ada Arispe was heart-wrenching.
Two-month-old Richard Freddie Arispe, the youngest of Adela's four children, was dead. An autopsy showed he had zero-percent body fat and weighed four ounces less than he had at birth. There were deep, red marks on the infant's head, arm and leg.