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Preventing child abuse starts with educating and supporting parents and children alike

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

April is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. Family advocacy intervention specialist Kim Vehige and her associates in the Family Advocacy Program offer a wide range of programs and classes. Vehige said that education and support can help keep parents out of situations that can lead to abuse.

“Parenting is very hard, and kids don’t come with a manual.” said Vehige. FAP intervention starts early with the New Parent Support Program, a free and voluntary program for expecting parents and parents of children under three. The program offers a range of educational resources and direct support from licensed clinical social workers and registered nurses, including home visits.

“Lots of research has been done that says where we can get professionals in the home and really out on the family's turf, those interventions are highly effective,” said Vehige. She adds that younger children are at higher risk for abuse, particularly before they can speak and have peers.

Vehige notes that high family stress levels can be a risk factor for abuse, and military families face unique stressors. Active duty may cause service members to keep irregular hours, and when a unit has a high-ops tempo, service members may be “deployed in place,” working 12 to 14-hour days and only able to go home long enough to sleep. That, she notes, can be even more stressful than an actual deployment, as the deployed-in-place service member’s presence in the home can create an illusion of availability for themselves, their spouse or their children.

“Families have their ebbs and flows,” said Vehige. “Johnny might be having a rough time at school or whatever, but that's fairly normal and healthy families are going to be able to manage and move through that.”

Isolation can also be a risk factor for individuals or for families. Friends and communities can help relieve stress or offer support during difficult times, keeping bad situations from festering into crises.

Violence prevention integrator Michel Cremeans and teen coordinator Sonia Cordova are collaborating on a series of events to educate and draw attention to the issue.

They’ll be spreading awareness at Operation Megaphone April 26, 2019 at the R. P. Lee Youth Center. It’s an annual lock-in for local teens; they’ll be on-site from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. building bonds and forming support networks with one another. The event will also be open to teens on Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, which does not have a youth center.

“The few teens that do come to the Youth Center say that there's a lot more teens on base, but they just don't get out much,” said Cordova. “So we're just trying to pull them out. I have planned Minute to Win It games along with other stuff to get them to team up, get to know each other and communicate.”

Cordova and Cremeans will also take advantage of the parents’ presence as they drop off their teens to talk about prevention and awareness in child abuse.

Vehige and Cremeans both touch on the importance of communication within the home,

“A lot of times when we're doing parenting work, we want to make sure that parents aren't parenting from a shame-based model, but from an empowerment-based model,” said Vehige. “You want to help families to create those environments that help children to feel empowered within their own family system to be able to raise up questions and issues.”

Using Permanent Change of Station orders as an example, Vehige said that children should feel comfortable saying they don’t want to move. Orders are orders, but children should know they can express their concerns and have their feelings acknowledged.

For more information on stressors unique to military children, Vehige offers the Military Child Education Coalition at militarychild.org as a resource. For more information on Operation Megaphone and other events, contact the R. P. Lee Youth Center at 719-556-7220. Parents and children with questions can contact FAP at 719-556-8943.

Any suspicions of child maltreatment or abuse should be reported to the FAP office at 719-556-8943.

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui