About Us

In addition to working with client families, the staff liaises with other non-profit organizations, such as domestic violence shelters, 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 grant eligibilty, and possible forensic and expert witness services when children and their families have exhausted available resources through public service groups, yet the children 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.

Defenders of Children

  • Protect victims of crimes including domestic/family/sexual         violence and/or child abuse with grant funding eligibility
  • Ensure children receive the rights and legal protections to which they are entitled
  • Provide specialized trauma therapy for victims of family violence by expert clinicians
  • Identify and address inadequacies in the child protection and legal systems as we seek to identify them
  • Bring about beneficial changes in those systems by encouraging positive changes in guidelines, protocols, and laws to ensure the safety of non-offending families and well-being of children
  • Conduct educational trainings for the community and professionals involved in child protection, domestic violence awareness/advocacy and partners in victim services
  • Provide court-ordered supervised parenting time services to help reunite and heal parents and children in a safe, therapeutic environment 


Johanna Fierstein, MSW

Executive Director

David J. Newstone, Esq.

Director of Legal Services

Sharla Denton, MC, LPC, CCTP

Director of Clinical Services & Trauma Therapist

Staff Attorney

Heather Harpest

Family Law Paralegal

Deziree Rodarte, LMSW

Trauma Therapist

Liz Avila, MSW

Helpline Advocate (bilingual English/Spanish)

Sue Ann Springer

Senior Family Law Paralegal

Board of Directors

Trish Leon, CDFA

Secretary & Treasurer

Dick Geasland, LCSW

Board Chairperson

Judge (Ret.) Penny Willrich


Joanne McDonald

Chief Financial Officer​

Peggy Zeffer


Annette Ruskin, LCSW



Annette Ruskin, LCSW

Volunteer Therapist, Forensics Expert (bilingual English/Spanish)

Pat O’Connell

Educational Advocate

Advisory Council

Dr. Faren Akins

Dan Riley, Esq.

David Weinstock, J.D., Ph. D.

Kelly Mendoza, Esq.

Alisa Gray, Esq.

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 DNewstone@defendersofchildren.org for assistance.