PHOENIX — A new nonprofit in Arizona is rescuing children who fall into a tragic category: they are victims of intimate partner murders. Their mom or dad was killed by the spouse or partner, and the children are suddenly left without both parents because one is dead and the other is behind bars.
“It is a tragedy and it is a dark subject but it is very rewarding to be able to help,” said Holly Hulen, associate director of the Family Violence Institute at NAU.
Hulen is leading the department’s Arizona Child and Adolescent Survivor Initiative (ACASI). The new victims' services project is intended to deliver trauma services across all jurisdictions in Arizona to children who have lost a parent to intimate partner homicide.
Advocacy groups estimate between 2 to 3,000 children are impacted by intimate partner homicide each year in the U.S.
“Many of these children are not served because they get lost in the system, because they don’t have the services available,” Hulen said.
Stephanie Del Giorgio of Flagstaff knows too well what these children endure. When she was 5 years old, Stephanie’s father killed her mother on the day the couple was supposed to finalize their divorce at a Tucson courthouse.
“Still to this day -- she died 45 years ago -- I get emotional thinking about her,” Del Giorgio said in an interview with 12 News.
The night her mother died, Stephanie remembers sobbing uncontrollably while her relatives tried to comfort her.
“That night I didn’t sleep at all. I listened to John Denver records. One record after the next, they would just stack them back up for me,” Stephanie said.
The next few weeks and months were especially tough as anger mounted.
“I visualized it like I was in a boiling pot. One of my brothers didn’t speak for a long time. The other was just angry,” Stephanie said.
She credits her relatives’ efforts to make sure she grew up with her two older brothers under the same roof. Stephanie also attributes her “survival” -- as she calls it -- to having church mentors who modeled for her what it meant to be a successful adult. Hundreds of hours of counseling also helped.
Eventually, Stephanie learned to forgive her father.
“It’s hard because here is this person who murdered your mom,” Stephanie said. “But then I realized that’s not who I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be that angry person.”
Today Stephanie is an administrative assistant at NAU’s Institute of Human Development. She says children of intimate partner homicide can be empowered.
“You have choices and you make the best of what you have been given. It may not be a lot, but you can do it,” Stephanie said.
She applauds the formation of ACASI, which has a network statewide, to help children who didn’t have the support system she had.
“They need their basic needs met: food and shelter. They need education,” Stephanie said. “They need social resources, counseling, and so much more.”