Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Child abuse and neglect: what it means to the Air Force

by Senior Airman Stephanie Sauberan
Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs

4/21/2014 - MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- -- When raising children, parents will often do their best to ensure they are giving them the proper care and attention needed to grow into strong healthy adults. Many parents would never dream of abusing or neglecting their children. However, the definitions of abuse and neglect in the civilian sector do not necessarily carry over to military life, and some military parents may be found guilty of these crimes without knowing they had been committing them.

According to Air Force Maltreatment Definitions, there are four basic types of maltreatment: emotional abuse, neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse.

Emotional abuse of a child includes, but is not limited to, berating a child, humiliation, threatening the child and excessive discipline.

Neglect is defined as egregious acts or omissions on the part of the child's caregiver that deprives the child of needed age-appropriate care. Examples of neglect include lack of supervision, exposing a child to physical hazards, educational neglect, neglecting to provide a child with proper health care, deprivation of necessities such as food and shelter as well as abandonment.

Abandonment occurs when a caregiver is absent and does not intend to return or is away from the home for more than 24 hours without arranging for an appropriate surrogate caregiver.

Physical abuse is defined as the non-accidental use of physical force on the part of a child's caregiver. Examples of physical abuse include, but are not limited to, shaking a child, pushing or shoving, slapping, hitting a child with an object or restraining a child.

However, acts committed to protect a child from immediate physical harm, such as grabbing a child to prevent them from being struck by a car, are not classified as physical abuse.

Sexual abuse is defined as sexual activity by an alleged abuser with a child for the purpose of sexual gratification of the child, the alleged abuser or any other person. Examples of sexual abuse include, but are not limited to, exploitation such as photographs, molestation and sexual assault or rape.

In many cases parents who are suspected of maltreatment towards their children will be referred to the Family Advocacy Clinic on base.

"Allegations come to us through either self-referral, third interest party, Ward County, medical, or Command," said 1st Lt. Natasha Hilts, 5th Medical Operations Squadron alternate Family Advocacy officer. "At that point, I will review the allegation with the administrative staff to determine if it meets the threshold to take the case and decide if it is egregious and whether it fits within the definitions of abuse or neglect."

If a case meets the threshold, Family Advocacy will open an incident notify the Office of Special Investigations; the base legal office; the 5th Security Forces Squadron; and Command, said Hilts. Ward County Social Services is also notified if children are involved. FA will then conduct interviews with all beneficiaries within 3 days of opening the incident.

"FA then gathers any collateral information and adds it to the file," said Hilts. "We are required to take that information to the Central Registry Board within 60 days of receipt of referral."

On the board sits the Vice Wing Commander, Command Chiefs, OSI, a base legal representative, A 5th SFS representative, Command, and the Family Advocacy Officer.

Based on the definitions and criteria of abuse and neglect, the board votes to see if the case "Meets or Does Not Meet Criteria" for maltreatment.

"If a case does not meet criteria then we close the case at the next staffing and make recommendations for prevention, such as anger management class or parenting classes," said Hilts. "If it does meet criteria then we begin officially working with the patients depending on the allegation."

For example, in a case concerning child maltreatment, FA focuses on educating parents on punishment vs. discipline and appropriate discipline behaviors, said Hilts. If the parents comply with the recommendations, attend all the classes recommended and FA personnel see progress and improvement the case will be closed and marked as resolved.

If the patients are not engaged, FA attempts three times to reach them. Additionally, FA gives their leadership a courtesy notification and closes the case as unresolved if they do not receive support from that member's leadership, Hilts explained.

FA members have no legal authority to make participants engage, nor can they take children out of the home, Hilts clarified. The power to remove children from a home falls under Ward County's realm of authority. Although, FA can make those recommendations if they feel the children are unsafe.

Though FA cannot physically remove children from a home, they are one of the last agencies to review a case before it reaches the board, and ultimately may make the final recommendation that leads to parents losing their children, said Hilt.

The consequences for a closed or unresolved case are: ineligibility to receive Pacific Air Force orders or overseas assignments; no volunteering with children; and their next commander can deny Permanent Change's of Station as they see fit.

"We offer so many options to squadrons in regards to child abuse and neglect," said Hilt. We are here to help and it never needs to get to the point of maltreatment."

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