We recognize April as Child Abuse Awareness Month. I've been asked a couple of times why we use the word awareness instead of prevention and I think it's important to explain.
Prevention is everyone's responsibility. The first step in preventing abuse is to understand what constitutes abuse and to be aware of common misconceptions about child abuse. One of the most common misconceptions about child abuse is that the abuser is a "bad" parent who is purposely trying to harm the child. While we see cases of child abuse where the abuse may be intentional, the vast majority of cases that we see in the Family Advocacy Program involve well intentioned parents who love their children. Abuse does not always result in immediate physical harm but if left unaddressed, it can result in serious physical or psychological harm over time.
The Department of Defense (DoD) has four categories considered abuse:
1. Physical Abuse. It is certainly the easiest to identify because it often results in some type of injury. Many people may be surprised to learn that the DoD criteria considers spanking that results in injury or that involves an object (such as a belt or paddle) as abuse.
2. Emotional abuse. Often harder to identify, this can include a child witnessing domestic violence, constant belittling or name-calling or discipline that is inappropriate for a child's age.
3. Child sexual abuse. Any contact of a sexual nature; whether there is direct physical contact with the child or indirect contact, such as purposefully exposing a child to sexual content.
4. Child neglect. Which includes leaving children unattended when they are too young to be unsupervised, unsanitary/unsafe living conditions and not providing children with needed medical care.
Military families are very resilient and cope with a variety of challenges unique to the military culture. Many military families have great skills to cope with these unique challenges, however, when families experience stress, the risk of child abuse increases. We offer family, couple and individual counseling, to service members and their families, parenting classes and a variety of other classes monthly. Our programs are free of charge and open to all military and their family members.
Prevention is everyone's responsibility and a large part of that responsibility is to report suspected abuse immediately to the Family Advocacy Program. If you would like to learn more about child abuse, need to make a report of abuse or are seeking assistance, please stop by Building 11, Room 109 or call 301-319-4087.
Kimberly Lahm, LMFT
Counseling and Advocacy Supervisor
Fleet and Family Support Center