We have doubled our formerly two-person statewide program team in just two months! We are grateful to welcome to our team Michelle Simmons, Statewide Safe Babies Court Team Coordinator, and Michelli Castaneda, Training Specialist.

Michelle Simmons

Hi! I am Michelle Simmons, the Statewide Safe Babies Court Team Coordinator. Safe Babies Court Teams, known by different names in different counties (Best for Babies in Yavapai, Cradles to Crayons in Maricopa, etc.), serve infants and toddlers in the child protection system. SBCT/Best for Babies increases shared knowledge regarding the unique needs of infants and toddlers and increases community collaboration to improve outcomes for those children. The statewide leadership team and I are working together to understand disparities for young children and their families in Arizona.

I am a doctoral candidate in Public Health Education at the American College of Education, studying the intersectionality of public health, adverse childhood experiences, and early educational outcomes. Previously, I worked as a HealthySteps Specialist for a federally qualified healthcare center. I served my hometown’s Birth to Five population by providing parent education and support, developmental screenings, and support referrals. In this position, I saw firsthand how social and structural determinants of health impact well-being and child development and increase family stress. This experience led me to the work of prevention and my desire to work with systems change.

Something fun to know about me: I am a fourth-generation pyrotechnician. I was born, raised, and reside in Winslow, where my family’s roots run deep. My family has been involved with the Winslow 4th of July fireworks display for over 50 years. My dad, sister, and I organize the fireworks’ fundraising, set-up, and presentation. My niece and nephew are eagerly awaiting their 18th birthday so they can set off the fireworks and become the fifth generation.”

Michelli Castaneda

Michelli is Prevent Child Abuse Arizona’s Training Specialist, a role that intertwines her expertise in the Arizona justice system and curriculum development to support program development through collaborative work with Prevent Child Abuse Arizona partners. Here are a few things about Michelli:

“I deeply believe all children deserve the opportunity to thrive, and I know that can only happen when families have what they need to nurture and protect them. I’m so compelled by PCAAZ’s focus on prevention because stopping child maltreatment before it begins feels like working to build the world we want rather than only reacting to the world we currently have. As Training Specialist, I’m honored to play a small part in building that better world and grateful to have found a home at PCAAZ.

“I started as a high school chemistry teacher before making my way into an instructional coaching role with Teach For America. I enjoyed coaching teachers to recognize and use their strengths, which eventually drew me to building leadership development programs – first for teachers, then later for any interested Arizonan through my work at Valley Leadership. Between my roles at Teach For America and Valley Leadership, I took a detour through law school at Arizona State University to learn more about how we treat children in the justice system. Before earning my JD, I received a master’s degree in secondary education from ASU and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arizona. 

“I’m a mom to three incredible kids, ages 5, 3, and 1. As Arizona natives, my husband and I are privileged to be surrounded by family from both sides, and I’ve learned that one of my favorite things in the world is watching them love my children as much as I do. My interests include baking, crafting, and overzealous birthday party planning.”