Keeping Our Children Safe and Healthy



Graphic by Regina Ali, Defense Media Activity

By Rosemary Freitas Williams
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy

It’s time to reinforce that each of us plays a role in keeping our children safe and healthy.

After 13 years of war, involuntary separations, and continued high “OpTempo” for the troops who remain, and emerging new missions, the stress on our military families is in many ways greater than ever.  The reality is that we live in an uncertain world and our military stands ready to respond.  To that end, we must continue to strengthen awareness and prevention efforts to protect the most vulnerable members of our military community, our children.

Abuse and neglect have absolutely no place in our military services, and the Department of Defense is 100 percent committed to helping provide a safe environment for all our service members, civilians, and their families.  Unfortunately, we have no reason to think the rates of child abuse and neglect in the military community will trend down without a renewed focus on being proactive about prevention.  In fact, recent data has shown that cases of child abuse and neglect in the military community are on the rise.  This emerging trend requires our focused attention.

Here is what we are doing. To help reduce incidents of child neglect, the DoD family advocacy team is launching an education and outreach campaign that addresses three key areas of child abuse and neglect: inadequate child supervision, physical or environmental hazards, and distracted parenting.

As part of that strategy, we are launching a first-ever digital marketing strategy targeting military families via digital on-line platforms –  social media, websites, etc. – they currently use in order to make them aware of –  and do our best to engage them with – available resources to protect and strengthen their families. We know our “militaryennials,” 80 percent of our military community who are 35 years old and younger, live and thrive on-line so we will go where they are to inform them about the remarkable array of resources to help their families healthy and safe.

We are also actively working to get a better understanding of the rates of incidence of child and domestic maltreatment and have brought in outside experts in the field to investigate new ways to reduce those rates.

We are in year two of our “proactive response” to preventing family violence.  Without getting into a lot of acronyms, this is a new process for DoD where we bring together all of the groups that work with families in the family advocacy effort, chaplains, medical, law enforcement, family programs, command and many more, and systematically examine the system of how family violence is detected, responded to and treated to find how to make it easier, better, faster for the families and those who help them.  It is a remarkable and passionate effort.  I call it “the least bureaucratic thing we do.”

It’s worth reminding everyone that confidential help is available for military parents through family advocacy programming , tailored support services such as the New Parent Support Program, the Military OneSource call center, and MilitaryOneSource’s online library of resources, if you are just looking to learn more.

Safety is a 24/7/365 effort. And, while it may feel awkward to speak up if you suspect child abuse or neglect, preventing child abuse is everyone’s business. If you suspect child abuse or neglect, call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453), your local Family Advocacy Program, or child protective services.

Each and every one of us plays a role in keeping our children safe and healthy.

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