Prevent Child Abuse Arizona Founder, Becky Ruffner, Passes the Torch to Claire Louge, Executive Director
By Hilary Dartt
When Becky Ruffner founded Prevent Child Abuse Arizona in 1989, she was a young mother determined to improve the chances for a healthy trajectory for families. She spent 30 years at the helm of the organization, fostering a movement. At the time, the movement was in its infancy.
Becky, now a grandmother, has spent the past thirty years nurturing the movement to change things for the better. It’s now really hitting its stride, thanks in large part to Becky’s penchant for forming partnerships and taking advantage of opportunities … which made this the perfect time to pass the torch.
This past January, Claire Louge took the helm as Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona. And, although a decade ago when she graduated from Cornell University, she wouldn’t have imagined being here, she’s completely “overwhelmed by gratitude” that she is.
Fresh out of college, not really knowing what she wanted to be when she grew up, Claire decided to spend a year in self-discovery mode. Through AmeriCorps VISTA, she began working with First Things First, where she eventually spent almost four years as the Community Outreach Coordinator. (First Things First, supports programs for the healthy development and learning of Arizona’s young children, ages birth to five.)
In her role there, she worked in partnership with Prevent Child Abuse Arizona.
“I really wanted to work with Becky,” she said during a recent interview. “I met her the first week I moved here. I took one look at her, one listen to her, and I thought, ‘I want to be like that. How can I be like that?’”
Becky, she said, was confident, visionary, determined. And Claire thought it was incredible. “I chose the job because I wanted to be part of the movement she had created.”
“When she told me she wanted to work for Prevent Child Abuse Arizona,” Becky said, “it was such a natural fit, I didn’t have to think twice about hiring her.”
Six years ago, Becky offered Claire a job to plan the events and conferences for the organization. Though she didn’t consider herself an event planner, Claire was ready to take any job that would have her work alongside Becky. She soon learned that it wasn’t just about event logistics, it was about people, relationships, and influential knowledge.
“What we do is so much more about the content,” said Becky, we don’t just rent the facility and bring the cookies.”
Claire may not be an event planner, but she is a relationship builder and a skilled one at that.
Prevention is all about partnerships, she said. It’s about influencing, convening, and training—by partnering with other entities and organizations that serve families to change systems … all to better serve children.
In her planning training for Prevent Child Abuse Arizona and other agencies, then, she brought people together with a singular aim: to prevent child abuse.
“I had full autonomy to fight child abuse in whatever way I saw fit,” she said. “Becky gives her employees a tremendous amount of freedom to recognize and use their strengths. It formed my career. It formed me as a professional, to have her have this trust in her staff.”
That, Becky said, has been the key to maximizing opportunities in the rapidly-growing child abuse prevention space: “Our team has been the key to our success. That was the most exciting part of my job. This is tough work; people don’t understand what it is, they don’t like to support it because you can’t show them what they’re preventing. It’s a tough sell in a lot of arenas, including the legislature. What makes it most rewarding is the people we enjoy working with. Our partners, yes, but most of all, our team.”
“Everybody we work with has a heart for the work,” Claire said. “Prevention is so broad. There are so many things we can do … Everything we do needs to be in and is in partnership with others.”
Now, hitting her stride as Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona, she said, it’s her tremendous privilege to be a guiding force in changing social norms in how we care for others in our community … how we help families cope with the inevitable stressors of life so children are safe at home.
Both Becky and Claire acknowledged that it takes a visionary mind to understand prevention.
It’s been only 60 or 70 years since lawmakers enacted the first laws to protect children from abuse, Becky said. Since then, the way society views protecting children has shifted away from taking action after abuse has occurred (which doesn’t work). Now, she said, “We know better.” Prevention is key when it comes to protecting children. Prevention works. And, Becky said, “Moving it upstream is a life’s work.”
Although Becky retired at the end of 2019, she’s still involved with the movement … but she’s also enjoying spending time with her family and working on her reading list.
While she does that, Claire looks to the future: “What I envision us doing is strengthening partnerships we already have, to take advantage of opportunities that are happening. I have a lot of people to thank for this opportunity and I will need a lot of people to help Prevent Child Abuse Arizona succeed. We can transform Arizona into a place where child abuse is very, very rare – and that begins with people getting involved in prevention.”
For more information, visit www.pcaaz.org.
Prevent Child Abuse Arizona Plans to Expand its Yavapai Family Advocacy Center
The Yavapai Family Advocacy Center, a program of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona, aims to reduce trauma to victims of abuse by providing a safe and supportive environment and facilitating a team approach to advocacy, investigation, and prosecution.
With myriad services including counseling, this program does the crucial work of helping people to heal from trauma and break the cycle of abuse.
In the first year after it opened its doors in 2000, the Yavapai Family Advocacy Center served about 100 people. This year, it’s on track to serve more than 850.
For more information or to donate to help with this program’s expansion costs, visit www.yfac.org.