One of my successes is with the little girl pictured above who started talking once I started visiting with her six year old sister. My little brother had not started talking until he was three, so her quiet presence didn’t bother me. But I was delighted when she decided she could join in the conversations. Our family joke was always that my brother didn’t speak because he couldn’t get a word in edgewise with me around. Perhaps the same was true for Judy with her talkative older sister.
At another home, a six year old girl told me she didn’t like her nineteen year old uncle putting his hand down her pants. I managed to stay calm and told her I didn’t like him doing that either and I would take care of it. She lived with her grandfather and this uncle, so I was the only woman in her life. While this was before mandatory reporting, I sought out a clinician in the County Health Department for advice. Chillingly, he told me that “that happens a lot here. It’s pretty normal.” Knowing it was not all right with me, I spoke to her grandfather directly. He had the boy in the army the next week, and the little girl continued visiting with me each week, unmolested.
One of the real benefits for these children was access, through Head Start, to dentists, doctors and specialists. One of the children was able to see a pediatric neurologist for her seizures. Several had severe “bottle mouth” and had caps put on their teeth allowing them to bite and chew regular food. One needed treatment for scabies, as did her whole household.
At my most challenging home, a two year old opened the trailer door with a butcher knife in her hands. She had been trying to open a pop bottle with it. While Head Start wanted me to teach the mother about nutrition, I felt it was more important to take away the knife and move the poisons from under the kitchen sink. I am sure, in retrospect, that the mother was severely mentally ill, but at the time I just did my best to teach the older girl.