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NEWS | April 18, 2013

Recognize and respond: Steps to notice and prevent child abuse

By Airman 1st Class Austin Harvill 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Take a piece of paper. Crush it in your fist. Throw it to the ground. Scream at it. Release all your stresses of the day into that scrap of parchment. Now straighten it out.

Obviously, you will still be able to see the wrinkles and the tears left from your actions. For a child who suffers abuse, they are treated like that paper, and their scars cannot be removed, just like the wrinkles of the paper.

"Children are our future," said Linda Hough, 633rd Medical Group Family Advocacy Program outreach manager. "It is important we keep them safe and cared for."

Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Month of the Military Child both fall in April, which prompted Hough and her associates to share as much information about child abuse prevention and awareness as possible.

CAPM began in 1983 with the intent of reducing violence in all forms against children through the concentrated efforts of the government and local communities. Since then, child abuse awareness issues take the forefront of April events.

At the backbone of these events are community members who have dedicated themselves to preventing child maltreatment.

Antoinette Hyman, Langley Child Development Center supervisory child development technician, has worked with kids for the majority of her adult life. As a career caretaker, it is no surprise she believes in keeping kids safe from harm.

"This makes you realize how many children are less fortunate than these kids," said Hyman. "It hurts the heart to know children go through abuse."

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 675,000 children were abused in 2011. The number has dropped by one-third since 2001, but Hyman believes one case is simply one too many.

"It is important to be aware and cautious," said Hyman. "[I] want no child to go through the ordeal of child abuse."

Everyone has the ability to recognize child abuse and raise the red flag. Helpguide, a non-profit resource for child abuse awareness and prevention, shared a few warning signs of child abuse to look for.

Physical abuse
· Unexplained or frequent injury
· Overly alert, skiddish to touch
· Seems afraid to go home
· Inappropriate clothing to perhaps cover up injuries, such as long-sleeves on a hot day
Emotional abuse
· Withdrawn, fearful or anxious about making mistakes
· Shows extremes in behavior
· Seems detached from the caregiver or caregivers
· Acts as an adult (takes care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rock-throwing, tantrums)
· Clothes are ill-fitted, dirty or non-weather appropriate
· Consistently has bad hygiene
· Untreated injury or illness
· Frequently unsupervised or seen in unsafe situations
· Frequently late or absent from school
Sexual abuse
· Trouble walking or sitting
· Knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate for their age
· Strong efforts to unexplainably avoid a specific person
· Fears changing clothes in front of others or participate in physical activity
· An STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14
· Runs away from home

While knowing the signs is paramount to child safety, there isn't a specific "place" where child abuse can happen. If the signs are apparent, make the report regardless of the child's caretakers or the neighborhood they live in.

With the entire stigma regarding child abuse, it is important for parents or other caretakers to know there are resources available if they feel raising their child has become too difficult.

Joint Base Langley-Eustis provides those same resources for Service members and community members alike in the Hampton Roads area.

"When a [caretaker] begins feeling frustrated or angry with the child, they need to step back and take a break," said Hyman. "There are programs on the installations for parents to get the help they need."

The Family Advocacy Program, Military Family Life Consultants and the CDC all have programs to help parents foster a healthy relationship with their children, such as behavioral counseling, parenting seminars and programs designed so parents can take a break to revive the love and care they have for their kids when life seems overwhelming.

As our most precious commodity, children need to be safe and happy, and the vigilance and love provided by everyone in the community, not just caretakers, ensures their safety.

For more information on these programs, or to report child abuse and neglect call Langley Family Advocacy at (757) 764-2427 or the Fort Eustis office at (757) 878-0807.