Say or do some­thing when par­ent, child in cri­sis

Pat­ter­son- Green and her team ex­plain that vis­its are vol­un­tary. And they let par­ents know they are there to help, not judge.

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - Email: sueon­tiveros.cst@gmail.com

Maybe Gizzell Ford’s story has stayed with me be­cause I re­late to her joy at dis­cov­er­ing words at a young age.

I kept a jour­nal, just as the child nick­named Gizzy did. She, too, en­joyed read­ing and school, end­ing third grade with straight A’s. But that’s where the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween us end.

Gizzell never made it to fourth grade. Her suf­fer­ing, when she was just 8 years old, was so aw­ful that a sea­soned foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tor wept while tes­ti­fy­ing about what Gizzell en­dured be­fore her death by tor­ture and stran­gu­la­tion in the sum­mer of 2013. This month, Gizzell’s grand­mother, He­len Ford, was found guilty in the girl’s death, with the child’s own words used against theWest Side woman dur­ing trial.

In de­fend­ing Ford, her lawyers at­tempted to paint her as a woman over­whelmed by her home life. ( Gizzell’s dis­abled fa­ther, who died be­fore he could be tried for his role in the child’s death, also lived with Ford.) How­ever, it’s no sur­prise that with the ev­i­dence pre­sented, the jury didn’t buy that de­fense.

A neigh­bor ex­pressed re­gret in one pub­lished ac­count that she and oth­ers nearby hadn’t known they should have in­ter­vened. In this hor­ri­ble case it’s ob­vi­ous the only rem­edy would have been to get the young girl out of that home. ( Gizzell’s mother and ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther plan to con­tinue a law­suit against the Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­ily Ser­vices and a doc­tor who ex­am­ined the child, ac­cord­ing to news sto­ries.)

But what about other sit­u­a­tions, usu­ally far less dire, in which some­body thinks the mother or fa­ther or guardians are sim­ply com­ing up short in their par­ent­ing? What’s a per­son to do tomake sure a child is safe?

That’s where an or­ga­ni­za­tion like One Hope United and its home vis­its lit­er­ally can be a life­saver. Re­fer­rals come from hos­pi­tals, schools, social work­ers and sim­ply word of mouth, alert­ing the non­profit of par­ents who might need “ex­tra eyes,” as One Hope’s Adri­enne Pat­ter­son- Green de­scribes their mis­sion.

Of­ten par­ents are wary at first. But then Pat­ter­son- Green and her team ex­plain that vis­its are vol­un­tary. And they let par­ents know they are there to help, not judge.

Be­cause let’s face it; chil­drea­r­ing isn’t al­ways easy. Be­ing in charge of an­other hu­man be­ing can be daunt­ing, es­pe­cially for the young moms and dads that Pat­ter­son- Green and her team gen­er­ally see. But with help nav­i­gat­ing par­ent­hood as well as other chal­lenges— em­ploy­ment, hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion— fam­i­lies are set on a more sta­ble course.

Nat­u­rally, the chil­dren are the first fo­cus. Pat­ter­son- Green’s team helps par­ents un­der­stand their young ones’ cues, teach­ing skills that might sound sim­plis­tic, such as how to soothe a cry­ing baby. But think about it: how many times have we read abuse sto­ries where the vi­o­lence started with a child’s tears? They also ex­plain devel­op­ment stages and at what age a child should achieve those stages, point­ing par­ents to­ward early in­ter­ven­tion if nec­es­sary, ac­cord­ing to Pat­ter­son- Green. All this knowl­edge makes their clients “more con­fi­dent,” and as a re­sult, bet­ter par­ents, she says.

Be­cause the chil­dren are the first fo­cus, Pat­ter­son- Green and her crew al­ways are on the look­out for signs a child’s wel­fare is in dan­ger. They know the dif­fer­ence be­tween un­kempt and squalor, dis­ci­pline and abuse. It’s a hard step to take, but one they will take if se­ri­ous in­ter­ven­tion is needed.

But some­one has to take the ini­tia­tive and reach out to a pro­gram like One Hope United when a child and par­ents might need ex­tra help. Some­one has to speak up.

See some­thing, say some­thing.

Adri­enne Pat­ter­son- Green

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