To protect children and assure their safety the Department of Defense designated April as Child Abuse Prevention month.
The theme for 2016 is Child Safety to Prevent Child Neglect. A Pinwheel Garden event is planned for each Peterson Child Development Center April 4, to promote awareness and show support for child abuse prevention.
“Neglect is a big thing because it is usually the result of other things going on,” said Jeanette Barzee, Family Advocacy Program outreach manager with the Peterson Air Force Base Family Advocacy Program. “People get caught up in other things. We call it distracted parenting.”
Barzee said mental health issues, depression, alcohol, and drugs can and do lead to neglecting children. According to Air Force Medical Operations Agency information balancing technology and daily activities to reduce distractions is critical in reducing risk to a child’s safety.
In situations where mere seconds can make the difference, careful supervision of children can prevent accidents or injuries. Neglect can be anything from failing to provide food, clothing and shelter, to children witnessing violence between parents, Barzee said.
Neglect is one of the top three forms of abuse among military families according to a report from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. It has increased significantly in recent years, especially in families where one parent is deployed while another remains at home to care for children. Barzee said mothers are especially struggling in this area and the report findings back her up: they are three times more likely to maltreat a child while the spouse is away than when they are home.
“There are certain stressors in military families that civilians just don’t have,” said Barzee.
However, in the big picture, active duty spouses are more likely to abuse than the at-home parent, and most of them are fathers. The NCTSN finds younger enlisted personnel are the most frequent abusers. The deployment cycle, it concludes, affects the whole family.
For the current awareness campaign the military’s main focus is on neglect, Barzee said. There are some positive resiliency factors supporting people in the military in this arena. A steady job is one of them, as are supports and resources available on base purposefully built in to provide help. Being a good wingman is also important in preventing abuse.
“Reach out to families who seem troubled, she said. “Offer to help, to babysit and things like that. Anything that helps with material stuff … that relieves stress can help. It’s one less thing to worry about.”
There are five key messages associated with Child Abuse Prevention Month:
1. No parent is perfect, but all parents can supervise carefully and take simple steps to keep children safe.
2. Supervision can be the difference between a safe situation and a dangerous one. What are your community guidelines? You can find out by contacting the Family Advocacy Program.
3. Childproofing is more than outlet covers and cabinet latches. Learn how to make your children’s environment both child-friendly and safe.
4. Keeping children safe can be a challenge. Balance daily activities to reduce distractions and prevent accidents or injuries. Seconds can make a difference.
5. Parents are juggling a lot and there are resources to help. Support is available through Military OneSource and the Family Advocacy Program.
In the worst case, should abuse or neglect be observed call Family Advocacy Program or the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline.