WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Defense Department observes April as the Month of the Military Child, and also recognizes this time of year as it pertains to a more sobering topic: National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
In a recent DOD news interview, Barbara Thompson, the director of the DOD’s Office of Family Readiness, stressed that anyone aware of red flags and potential cases of abuse has an obligation to bring the concerns to light.
Learning how to support parents, identify risks and mitigate those risks are critical elements in child abuse prevention, she added.
“We have a role, each and every one of us, to support children’s health and safety,” Thompson said. “Parenting is one of the hardest jobs and responsibilities that we’ll ever have, and the one that also has the most love.”
DOD has taken a multipronged approach to help parents provide a safe, healthy, nurturing environment for their children, Thompson said. Through military treatment facilities, perinatal nurses and doctors can support military families’ unique needs.
Pediatricians are among the most trusted sources of information for parents, she noted.
Thompson also discussed the New Parent Support Program, in which parents can seek help through family advocacy, and even in-home visits, to reinforce safety and help them avoid risks of neglect or abuse.
“You’re moving every two to three years,” she said. “You’re away from your extended family, or service members are deployed, which means we now have a stay-at-home parent who’s by himself or herself, and we want to make sure the resources are available to strengthen their parenting skills.”
The National Center for Telehealth and Technology’s website offers tips and tools to help military and veteran parents during different stages of their children’s growth and development, Thomson said.
Military OneSource offers confidential, nonmedical counseling that helps parents learn communication skills to better identify and understand behavioral changes in their children, particularly those in the toddler stages, she added.
“(That phase) is sometimes called ‘The Terrible Twos,’ but I like to call it ‘The Terrific Twos,’ because children’s budding personalities are developing,” she said, acknowledging that, “it can be challenging when they’re saying ‘no’ to you all the time.”
But parents equipped with skills to offset children’s challenging behaviors often develop confidence and openness to additional resources that will foster long-term readiness and flexibility in reacting to their child’s unique personality, Thompson said.
“Children are very different,” she pointed out, “so what works for one of your children will not necessarily work for another one.”
Parents who return from deployments with visible or invisible injuries may particularly benefit from DOD and Military OneSource resources tailored to their specific needs, Thompson said.
Research and empirical evidence indicate that certain protective factors buffer and mitigate risks military families could experience, and working with schools, pediatricians, chaplains and child-development staff members is key to keeping those avenues of communication open, Thompson said.
“We want to make sure that … parents are aware how important it is to foment a nurturing, attached relationship with their young children … and manage expectations from both the child’s perspective, as well as their perspective,” she said. “We know (having this information) reduces the risk of committing abuse, because you have these tools to help you catch yourself before it happens.”
Officials are seeking to eradicate the stigma behind identifying and reporting child abuse, Thompson said, and to promote communities’ greater familiarity with the National Child Abuse Hotline and other resources designed to help parents who may be struggling with appropriate nurturing and disciplinary roles with their children.
“Each one of us has to take a stand to protect not only military children, but all children,” Thompson said.