Child Abuse Awareness Month: recognizing the need to act
By Senior Airman Racheal E. Watson, 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 21, 2016
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- An anonymous person once said, "you can spend a lifetime trying to forget a few minutes of your childhood."
During the month of April, Buckley Air Force Base members raise awareness for National Child Abuse Prevention Month by recognizing the need to act.
Child maltreatment includes child abuse and neglect, which occurs when someone responsible for a child's well-being abuses, hurts or takes advantage of a child either physically, sexually or emotionally.
"We all know that bad things happen to kids at different times," said Keralee Vought, 460th Medical Operations Squadron family advocacy officer. "We've learned the more people know about what to look for, what resources are available and what they should do if they see something amiss, the rate of abuse goes down. By bringing together a lot of different resources, people are less likely to act in a way that can be harmful to their children."
Signs of abuse may not be easy to determine. Physical abuse can include violent actions such as hitting, kicking or punching. Emotional abuse can be very damaging to a child, which sometimes has more of a lasting effect than physical abuse.
"For children it is a little bit tougher because we know kids fall down, we know kids do things to each other, and we know kids get bruises, scrapes and things along those lines," said Vought. "When you're looking at a child physically, it is harder to tell. If you're helping a child change their clothes or use the restroom and you notice any kind of marks on the torso, bruises on the upper legs around the buttocks area, those are warning signs for sure because very seldom when kids fall do they hurt their torso or their buttocks."
Reporting abuse when it is suspected helps the proper officials intervene before situations worsen or become ongoing.
"Any time anyone has a suspicion of a child being abused, they need to report it," said Vought. "Children do not have a voice of their own most of the time. They are going to do whatever they think they're parents want them to do. So if you think a child is being abused and you ask the child directly, a lot of times the child is going to cover up for the parents."
Everyone in the military community is required to report suspected child maltreatment. Reporting can be done through the member's command, law enforcement, a medical provider or a Family Advocacy office.
Talking to agencies such as the chapel will not instantaneously escalate the situation to reporting authorities, but they can give guidance towards making a decision and provide an ear to listen.
"One thing the chapel holds near and dear to our hearts, that no other entity in the [Department of Defense] can provide, is 100 percent confidentiality," said Tech. Sgt. John Paul McIntosh, 460th Space Wing NCO in charge of chapel operations. "Now you might be thinking what good is that if an innocent child is being abused. A chaplain or a chaplain assistant can walk with this person over to the law enforcement desk; we can walk them over to legal, so they can get counseling on how they would like to proceed."
What to expect
Through interviews and medical evaluations, each domestic abuse or child maltreatment is assessed and referred to the appropriate agencies. The Family Advocacy will work with helping agencies to get the treatment and support needed, which may include individual or group counseling, therapeutic counseling, home visitation support and child development, parenting or anger management classes.
"Chaplains and chaplain assistants have life experience," said McIntosh. "We're not going to just let someone sit there and stew over it and not make a decision. We are going to encourage them to make decisions and they know they can do that with confidence because they're not making a knee-jerk reaction. They're getting counseling from someone who is seasoned, experienced and trained."
Since children have no control over their environment, adults are required to protect them. Reporting to the appropriate professionals can address the abuse and help support safety for the child.
Fear is one of the dominant emotions after disclosing child maltreatment, which is a normal reaction that may last for months or years in the aftermath. The most helpful way to respond to a victim's fear is to acknowledge it and let them know it is okay to be afraid.
Recognize the need to act
Child maltreatment will not get better with time. Talking openly with a suspected victim lets them know someone cares. Individuals do not need to be an expert in the field, but they should encourage getting professional help without delays.
"There are resources out there," said McIntosh. "No one has to hide and not say anything. We want to give them the confidence to make good ethical and moral decisions and not just be a bystander."