For April, Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, and the entire Department of Defense, observes Child Abuse Prevention Month, and celebrates the Month of the Military Child.
The campaigns are aligned under one overarching theme, Stand Up For MilKids.
“Both observances invite service members, their partners, spouses, commanders and installation support staff to celebrate and contribute to the resilience of military children,” said Michelle Adams, Prevention and Education specialist and victim advocate with Behavioral Health Section on base. “This campaign aims to raise awareness of a key protective factor shown to increase children’s resilience: the stability of a caring adult in their lives – whether a family member, teacher, coach or another positive figure.”
A caring adult with a steady presence in a child’s life can be a source of trust and support, and is especially important for kids with Adverse Childhood Experiences, she explained.
“Children who grow up with such an adult in their lives are significantly more likely to develop healthy social behaviors and positive coping skills that will help them to weather life’s difficulties, including abuse and neglect,” she said. “The strength and unity of the military community presents a unique opportunity for this campaign, which encourages adults to step up as positive role models for our military children.”
Whether a parent, mentor, teacher or friend, the MilKid in their life looks up to them.
“It is important to be a positive influence and help them through the harder days by learning what you can do to keep them growing safe and strong,” Adams emphasized.
According to National Children’s Alliance there are nearly 700,000 children abused in the U.S annually. The youngest children were most vulnerable. Children, in the first year of their life, had the highest rate of victimization of 24.2 per 1,000 children in the national population of the same age. They report neglect as the most common form of maltreatment. Of the children who experienced abuse, three-quarters suffered neglect; 17.2 percent suffered physical abuse; and 8.4 percent suffered sexual abuse. Some children are “poly-victimized,” meaning that they have suffered more than one form of maltreatment.
“About four out of five abusers are the victims’ parents,” Adams said.
The Department of Defense fiscal year 2018 statistics across all branches show that there were 12,850 reported allegations of child abuse and neglect; 6,010 met the DOD criteria for maltreatment. Of the met-criteria incidents 58.69 percent were neglect, 20.57 percent were physical abuse, 16.97 percent were emotional abuse and 3.78 percent were sexual abuse. Over half, 57.4 percent, of child victims were age 5 or younger and 92 percent of offenders were parents.
“Child abuse affects children of every age, race, and income level,” Adams explained. “It often takes place in the home and comes from a person the child knows and trusts such as a parent, relative, babysitter or caregiver, or friend of the family. Often abusers are ordinary people caught in stressful situations such as young mothers and fathers unprepared for the responsibilities of raising a child; overwhelmed single parents with no support system; families placed under great stress by poverty, divorce, or sickness; parents with alcohol or drug problems.”
One of the first steps in helping or getting help for an abused or neglected child is to identify the signs and symptoms of abuse.
There are four major types of child maltreatment:
Adams explained the four types of maltreatment as follows:
• Neglect – Failure to provide for a child’s basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, or proper supervision. Possible symptoms: Signs of malnutrition or begging, stealing, or hoarding food. Poor hygiene such as matted hair, dirty skin, or body odor. Unattended physical or medical problems. Statements indicating that no one is home to provide care. Child or caretaker abuses drugs or alcohol.
• Physical Abuse is intentional injury inflicted upon a child. It may include severe shaking, beating, kicking, punching, or burning that results in marks, bruising, or even death. Possible symptoms: Broken bones, unexplained bruises, burns, or welts in various stages. Unable to explain injuries, or explanations given by the child or caretaker don’t match. Unusually frightened of caretaker, afraid to go home. Report intentional injury by caretaker.
• Sexual Abuse refers to any sexual act with a child by anyone. It includes fondling the child’s genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and using the child for prostitution or production of pornographic materials. Possible symptoms: Pain or bleeding in anal or genital area with redness or swelling. Displays age-inappropriate play with toys, self, or others. Inappropriate knowledge about sex. Child reports sexual abuse.
• Emotional Abuse may occur when a parent fails to provide understanding, warmth, attention, and supervision. Possible symptoms: Parent or caretaker constantly criticizes, threatens, belittles, insults, or rejects them without love, support, or guidance. Exhibits extremes in behavior from overly aggressive to overly passive. delayed physical, emotional, or intellectual development.
“In my experience working with Children’s Protective Services for 7 years, the majority of cases of neglect or abuse involved parents on drugs or who engaged in alcohol abuse,” said James Maher, Behavioral Health Section head. “One of the protective factors for many parents is a positive social support system with other parents or their own parents. Since most parents on base are separated from their own families of origin and their children are currently staying home from school for an extended amount of time, and dealing with the stress of not knowing how long this will last, it is more important than ever to communicate with others even if by telephone or video chats. Parents need an outlet to discuss normal frustrations of parenting children.”
Child abuse can have serious consequences for physical, emotional, psychological and literal brain development.
“The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study done by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Kaiser Permanente shows that the more experiences a person had involving child abuse and neglect the more they had long term health and wellbeing affects later on in life as an adult such as gastro-intestinal issues, heart disease, anxiety, depression, and more,” Adams said. Some signs of abuse may be more obvious than others. Pay attention to the children around you.
“It is important to trust your instincts and to ask a professional if you are unsure if you are seeing signs of abuse,” Adams said.
One thing that can assist children is if more people learned about the science of resilience and showed their commitment to keeping MilKids safe by pledging support.
“When you pledge to Stand Up For MilKids, you promise to do two things: Be a stable force for good in the life of a military child, and support military parents to practice self-care and seek help when they are overwhelmed,” Adams said.