Arizona nonprofit: Here’s how to identify and report child abuse

PHOENIX — In the wake of a shocking report of child abuse in Maricopa, one expert says it’s important to keep an eye out for children who may not be leading normal lives.

Last week, authorities in Arizona charged Machelle Hobson, 48, with abuse of her seven adopted children, accusing her of pepper spraying them, locking them in a closet and more if they did not perform well in YouTube videos.

She was booked into the Pinal County Jail last week on suspicion of molestation of a child, child abuse and unlawful imprisonment and child neglect.

The children had not attended school in years, police said.

“I think that one of the things that is particularly relevant today are situations where in a given neighborhood … people who live there, know that children who may live in a certain house or a certain location are simply not playing outside, are not attending school, are not doing what most kids do who live in neighborhoods with their families,” Rebecca Ruffner, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona, told KTAR News 92.3 FM last week.

“And that is not in and of itself a sign of abuse or neglect, but … a person might want to reach out to those families and just see if there’s anything that they can do to help, or have a friendly chat at the mailbox, or whatever.”

The organization’s website also lists unexplained injuries, fear of touch, weather-inappropriate clothing, antisocial behavior, uncontrolled aggression, bad hygiene and untreated illness as possible signs of physical abuse, emotional abuse or neglect.

Anyone can report child abuse by calling 1-888-SOS-CHILD or 911 if a child is in immediate danger, according to the website.

Ruffner said regulating home schooling to include periodic visits from authorities is important, “so that we don’t have the kinds of situations that we’ve seen recently both in California and Arizona with large families who are actually maltreating their children at home and have that home-school protection.”

She said there’s no “rational explanation” for why some people abuse children, and it’s impossible to predict who will be a good parent and who will be an abuser.

“In those situations, what we often see is mental illness in the parents as well as criminality,” she said.

“A possible way to understand it is that the parents themselves have a history of severe maltreatment and they don’t have the skills and the resiliency to overcome that early trauma themselves.”

Ruffner said the Maricopa case shouldn’t affect how people view foster parents or parents who choose to home school, as Hobson was an “extreme outlier.”

“The vast majority of foster parents are good people going out of their way to try to protect and nurture children who can’t be with their parents,” she said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Amy Phol contributed to this report.