If you suspect child abuse, making a call to your installation's Family Advocacy Program or civilian Child Protective Services is a moral obligation. Department of Defense policy and, in many cases, federal and state law require community members to report suspected child abuse. Ideally, a report will prompt early intervention before a child is hurt. The following information will help you take that important step to contact FAP or CPS and understand how those calls are assessed.
How to report child abuse
- If you witness violence or know someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or the military police if you are on an installation.
- If you suspect child abuse or neglect, call the installation FAP or the local civilian CPS. You can also call your state's child abuse reporting hotline or contact Childhelp (800-4-A-CHILD [422-4453]).
- Each installation that supports military families will have a FAP point of contact to receive calls concerning the safety and welfare of children. The number to call will be publicized throughout the military community. You can also call your installation's Family Support Center or visit Military INSTALLATIONS for a locator.
Assessing reports of child abuse
Child abuse calls can be made anonymously either to CPS or your installation FAP. When suspected abuse is reported, a team will assess the safety and welfare of the child. If CPS team members learn the call involves a military family, they will contact the installation FAP.
When the FAP receives a call concerning the safety and welfare of a child, they ensure that everyone who is capable of protecting the safety and well-being of the child (the active duty member's commander, law enforcement, the medical treatment facility and CPS) is aware of the risk and protective factors that are impacting the family. These community members often work as a team to ensure that children are protected, the parents receive appropriate intervention and the family receives the services they need to be able to form more healthy relationships.
Civilian CPS also responds to calls concerning the safety and welfare of children. They will most likely visit the identified child (they might go to the child's school or home), and they will also interview the child's parents. If they determine there is no evidence of abuse, the case will likely be closed. In some cases, the FAP or CPS may refer the family for counseling if they feel the family's life circumstances place them at risk for abuse or neglect.
If CPS determines that abuse or neglect did occur, the civilian family court system will become involved. Sometimes, the judge will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child's interests. This attorney will review all available information and evidence from law enforcement, the FAP and CPS and make recommendations to the court based on what he or she believes is in the child's best interest.
If the local civilian law enforcement agency is involved, and its investigation finds that abuse occurred, misdemeanor or felony criminal charges may be brought against the alleged offender. If a service member is convicted of a criminal offense in civilian court, the military may still decide to proceed with a court-martial hearing or other disciplinary action, including separation from the Service.
Child abuse at a DoD-sponsored facility or activity
The DoD makes every effort to ensure the safety and well-being of children involved in DoD facilities such as schools, Child Development Centers or DoD-sponsored activities like youth sports or recreation programs. This includes conducting thorough background checks and training all staff and volunteers involved with these facilities and programs.
If there is a report of child sexual abuse within a DoD-sponsored activity, the Family Advocacy Command Assistance Team may be assigned to provide an immediate response. This team helps the local installation team to assess the situation, develop an investigation strategy, gather evidence for possible prosecution, address the needs of victims and their families and restore public confidence in the DoD-sponsored facility or activity.
How a report of abuse will impact a military member's career
Service members and family members sometimes worry about going to their command or to the FAP with parenting concerns that may impact the safety and welfare of a child. First and foremost, the FAP and command want to keep victims of abuse safe. But they also want to help families work through their parenting issues so service members can develop healthier relationships and stay in the military services whenever possible.
When an allegation of child abuse meets criteria for the DoD definition of abuse or neglect, the FAP assesses the needs of the child and family and recommends a treatment plan. Commanders have sole discretion in determining any administrative or disciplinary action taken against active duty abusers. The commander will consider advice from legal counsel and evidence presented by law enforcement before making a decision. 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.