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. Community members can look out for children by being informed, attentive and supportive.
Child abuse and neglect in the U.S. and around the world is a serious and prevalent public health problem. An estimated one in four children have experienced abuse or neglect at some point in their lives. Child abuse and neglect is also preventable. Caring community members can help by recognizing the warning signs of abuse, as well as by sharing tips for safe parenting practices within their community.
Making a call to your installation’s Family Advocacy Program or civilian child protective services takes courage, but may ultimately protect the child and connect their parents with services needed to reduce stress and improve family functioning. While commanders and their chain of command have a mandatory duty to report, all military members and their family members are counted on to help keep children safe and report the suspected mistreatment of a child.
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 or neglect
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.”
Depending on the situation, you may report child abuse or neglect to one or more of the following organizations:
- 911 or military police: If you are a direct witness to violence or have reason to believe a child is in immediate danger, call 911 or your installation’s law enforcement office.
- Family Advocacy Program: If you suspect child abuse or neglect –– call your installation’s Family Advocacy Program and your local Child Protective Services office. Each installation that supports military families will have a Family Advocacy Program point of contact for child welfare and safety. The number will be available at your installation’s Military and Family Support Center and is generally listed on the installation website and throughout the military community. You can also visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS to locate the installation Family Advocacy Program.
- Child Protective Services: By reporting an incident of suspected child abuse or neglect to the Family Advocacy Program, the Child Protective Services agency closest to your installation will be contacted. Each state has its own civilian office dedicated to child welfare services. A comprehensive list of child welfare agencies for each state can be found at ChildWelfare.gov.
- FBI Cyber Tip Line for suspected online child sexual exploitation: If you have concerns a child is being exploited online, call the Cyber Tip Line, operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, at 800-843-5678. You can also learn more about preventive practices for your child’s online safety here.
- Other resources: You can also call your state’s child abuse reporting hotline or call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-422-4453.
Assessing reports of child abuse
When you call to report suspected abuse or neglect, the responder will ask for your name and identifying information. Although reports of child abuse or neglect can be made anonymously, the contact information of the reporting person is almost always collected for follow-up purposes. Here are the steps that follow a report:
- Initial screening: When suspected abuse or neglect is reported, the responder will assess the immediate safety and welfare of the child based on the information given by the caller. If Child Protective Services learns that the call involves a military family, they will often contact the installation Family Advocacy Program. If Family Advocacy receives your call, they will call the appropriate Child Protective Services office.
- Installation involvement: When the Family Advocacy Program receives a report of suspected child abuse or neglect, they will first make a plan to ensure the immediate safety and well-being of the child. The Family Advocacy Program will also notify the commander of the child’s active-duty parent or parents, law enforcement, the medical treatment facility and Child Protective Services. These key players work as a team to ensure that children are protected, and the family receives the services needed to build and maintain healthy family relationships.
How Department of Defense-sponsored facilities or activities ensure children’s safety
The Department of Defense makes every effort to promote the safety and well-being of children involved in their fcilities by requiring:
- Background screening/check: All staff and volunteers in positions that involve regular contact with children, such as a child development center staff, are required to complete thorough background checks prior to coming into unsupervised contact with children.
- Staff training: All staff and volunteers are required to complete training before being involved with the facilities and programs designed for children.
- Child Abuse Report Line: The Department of Defense has a designated line, 877-790-1197, 571-372-5348 OCONUS, for reporting of suspicions of child abuse in a Department of Defense child and youth program or sanctioned activity.
All adults in the military community play an important role supporting the safety of children and youth. If you have reason to suspect child abuse or neglect, call the Family Advocacy Program, and they can advise you on next steps.