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. Earlier this month, Gizzell’s grandmother, Helen Ford, was found guilty in the girl’s death, with the child’s own words used against the West 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 to make 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 can be contacted at (312) 949-5590.
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