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Awareness is essential in preventing child abuse

  • Published
  • By Clayton Cummins

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and experts at Tinker Air Force Base are using this time as an opportunity to stress the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect.

According to State of Oklahoma Human Services, nearly 15,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect in 2023. Tulsa County led the state with 2,711 victims, followed by Oklahoma County with 2,569 victims.

“The first step is for adults and children to recognize the signs and the symptoms so we can prevent things from happening,” said Capt. Melissa Woods, Family Advocacy Officer and Licensed Clinical Psychologist with the Tinker Family Advocacy Program. “When we talk about abuse, one of the challenges is that the likelihood for violence, and in some cases a fatality, prevention and awareness can help stop that process from getting to that severe of point.”

Familiarizing yourself with the signs of child abuse or neglect is one of the most important methods in prevention. Keep an eye out for sudden changes in the child’s behavior or school performance, the child always preparing for something bad to happen or frequently lacking adult supervision.

Typically fading bruises, unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones or black eyes are common physical signs of child abuse. Often children who are abused themselves may abuse animals or pets.

As an adult, let children know they can come to you with any concern and that you will listen without judgement, believe, and support them.

If you witness or suspect child abuse or neglect, whether that be on or off the installation, it is important to report it.

“We always tell people that you don’t have to have any evidence, proof, or written documentation to say that abuse is occurring,” said Woods. “If you have a suspicion, please give us a call. You never know whether that suspicion may save a life or not. Your report can always remain anonymous. Our goal is to take that information and investigate it further to see if there is abuse occurring.”

It is also important to teach children early about healthy body boundaries. Tell them to trust their feelings, encourage them to say forcefully, “I don’t like that,” or “Stop touching me.”

Remind children to leave a situation that makes them uncomfortable. Ask them to tell a trusted adult right away if something makes them uncomfortable. Talk with them about how to listen to and help their peers.

“It is such a good habit to start early, and it is such a protective factor for these kids,” said Danielle Dunrud, Intervention Specialist with the Tinker Family Advocacy Program. “When they are a little older and get that ‘uh oh’ feeling in their stomach like something is wrong, teach them to go talk to a trusted adult.”

When a report of child abuse or neglect is investigated and deemed creditable, resources are available at Tinker for all involved.

“The Family Advocacy Programs exists to help out alleged victims and offenders as far as treatment goes,” said Dunrud. “We try to refer them to whatever services they might need. That might look like parenting classes, individual counseling or anger management classes. We are here to offer support.”

If a child is in immediate danger, contact 911 immediately.

If you suspect or witness child abuse or neglect involving a service member, contact the installation Family Advocacy Program. Services are available 24/7.

Contact the Department of Human Services Child Abuse Reporting Hotline if you suspect or witness child abuse or neglect off base.