Everyone has a role to play in creating safe and healthy communities. This is particularly true when it comes to the health and safety of children. It is estimated that more than 3 million children per year are victims of abuse, much of which goes unreported. Though it may be uncomfortable, Department of Defense policy, as well as many state and federal laws, require that community members file reports of suspected abuse. Making a call to your installation's Family Advocacy Program or civilian child protective services can be difficult but could ultimately save a child's life. It takes social courage to report suspected child abuse, but the safety and well-being of children is everyone's responsibility. It's your responsibility.
The following information will help you take that important step toward contacting the appropriate service and understand what happens following a report.
How to report child abuse
Per federal law, child abuse and neglect are defined as, "any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical injury or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents imminent risk of serious harm."
The agency you report child abuse to depends upon the situation:
- 911 or military police. If you are a direct witness to violence or know someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or the military police if you are on an installation.
- Family Advocacy Program. If you suspect child abuse or neglect, call the installation Family Advocacy Program or the local child protective services. Each installation that supports military families will have a Family Advocacy Program point of contact for child welfare and safety. The number to call will be available at your installation's Military and Family Support Center and is publicized throughout the military community. You can also visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS to locate the installation FAP.
- Child protective services. Each state has its own civilian office dedicated to child services. A comprehensive list of contact information for each state can be found at the National Council on Child Abuse & Family Violence website.
- Other resources. You can also call your state's child abuse reporting hotline or contact Childhelp online or by telephone at 800-422-4453.
Assessing reports of child abuse
When you call to report suspected abuse, give the responder all of the pertinent information and know that the responder will ask for your name and identifying information. Although reports of child abuse can be made anonymously, the contact information of the reporting person is almost always collected for follow-up purposes.
- Initial screening. When suspected abuse is reported, a team will assess the safety and welfare of the child based on the information given by the caller and contact with the family, children and other caregivers. If child protective services learns that the call involves a military family, they will contact the installation Family Advocacy Program.
- Installation involvement. When the Family Advocacy Program receives a call concerning the safety and welfare of a child, contact is made with everyone who is capable of protecting the safety and well-being of the child. In doing so, these persons are made aware of the risk and protective factors that are impacting the family. This includes the active-duty member's commander, law enforcement, the military treatment facility and child protective services. These community members often work as a team to ensure that children are protected and the family receives the services they need to be able to form more healthy relationships.
- Crisis assessment. Both the Family Advocacy Program and child protective services follow up on reports with assessments of the child and family unit. They typically visit the child at home or school and interview the parent and other caregivers. If they determine no evidence of abuse, the case will likely be closed. In some cases, the family may be referred for counseling or other intervention if they are at risk for abuse or neglect. If it is determined that abuse or neglect did occur, the civilian court system will become involved and the family will have to comply with the process and recommendations set by the court.
Child abuse at a Department of Defense-sponsored facility or activity
The Department of Defense makes every effort to ensure the safety and well-being of children involved in their facilities by:
- Background screening/check. All staff and volunteers are required to complete thorough background checks prior to coming into contact with children and families.
- Staff training. All staff and volunteers are required to complete training before being involved with the facilities and programs designed for children and families.
- Child Abuse Report Line. The Department of Defense has a designated line, 877-790-1197, for reporting of suspicions of child abuse in a Department of Defense facility. If a report of child abuse within a Department of Defense-sponsored activity occurs, the Family Advocacy Command Assistance Team may be assigned to work with the local installation and provide an immediate response.
How a report of abuse impacts a military member's career
Individuals sometimes worry about reporting for fear of the effects the reports may have on the career of the service member. First and foremost, the Family Advocacy Program and command want to keep victims of abuse safe. They also want to help families work through issues so service members can develop healthier relationships and continue their military service, when possible.
- Command involvement. Commanders have sole discretion in determining any administrative or disciplinary action taken against an active-duty service member. The commander will consider advice from legal counsel and evidence presented by law enforcement before making a decision.
- Separation from duty. Although the military prefers to help families and retain service members, in some cases, a service member will be separated due to the severity of the abuse, results of military or civilian court proceedings, or the service member's failure to comply with treatment recommendations and orders from command.
It is your moral obligation to help protect children and families from abuse or neglect. Reporting child abuse only takes a minute and that minute may be the difference between life and death for a child. Err on the side of safety. If you think a child is being abused, report it today.