An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

  • Published
  • By Esther Rollen
  • 36th Medical Group
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. So what does that mean to you and me? That now is the time to reflect on how to prevent abuse to protect our children and our society. It is a time to look at what it means to be a parent, a care provider, and aunt or uncle, a godparent, a friend to children and a good citizen.

First and foremost, we all want to live in a successful and healthy nation. That must include our awareness of the importance of investing in children and their development, not only because it is a moral thing to do but also because it is an investment in the future of our community and economy. If we address the needs and development of our children early, in the long run it is much less costly to society and to individuals than trying to fix things later.

We make an impression that lasts a lifetime by how we interact and model behavior for our children. When a parent or any caregiver treats a child with respect, love and understanding, it affects the child for a lifetime--making it easier to develop and keep friendships, succeed in school and work, sustain a happy marriage and parent effectively.

Unfortunately, there are many factors that may reduce parents' ability to protect and nurture their children. Being in the military on Guam there are several issues that can create stress and increase the families risk for abuse and neglect. What are some of those factors? Risk factors that may apply to Guam service members include: feeling socially isolated and being a long way from home where there are family and friendships for support; often being young and inexperienced with few experiences with the military or parenting before coming to the island; and having few financial resources and few options for spousal civilian employment. It can be a difficult time for young couples and adding children in the mix may increase the sense of helplessness, anxiety and poor coping.

However there are certain factors that have been shown to serve as buffers against these risks. What are the shielding mechanisms that strengthen families? The Child Welfare Information Gateway describes five protective points quoted below:

Nurturing and attachment
Parents and caregivers who bond with and respond to the basic needs of their babies and young children lay the foundation for a positive and loving relationship. They also stimulate the growth of their child's brain and help their child learn how to interact in positive ways with others.

Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development
Helping parents learn about normal infant, childhood, and teen development will help them understand what to anticipate as their children grow and develop, and what types of support and discipline may work best at each stage.

Parental resilience
Parenting can be stressful, especially when parents are also managing work demands or unemployment, financial worries, illness, or difficulties with a spouse or others. Parents who have support and skills for managing stress will be better able to cope with day-to-day challenges.

Social connections
For most of us, family, friends, and neighbors create a network that provides social interaction, recreation, advice, and help. When parents have the opportunity to interact with, learn from, and seek the support of other adults, their children benefit.

Concrete supports for parents
Many people outside the military do not have sufficient food or shelter. The military includes provisions for basic needs that are essential to existence. Housing, affordable food, security, medical services, legal services, and schools, allow parents to be able to provide for the daily living needs for their families.

The Family Advocacy Program addresses many of the developmental strengthening factors to build parental knowledge, resilience and nurturance. The new parent support program provides home visits to families with children under the age of three for those who request it. Risk factors are assessed and addressed individually with each family and connections are made to other resources if needed. Parenting classes are provided for parents of children ages 2-12 and teens. Confidential couples counseling is available along with stress management classes.

In addition there are many other base resources available for the asking which form social connections and parental strength. Other supports are accessible through The Force Support Squadron, the CDC, the Youth Center, the Airman and Family Readiness Center, the Military Family Life Consultant and the Chapel to teach and support the skills that parents need or want to improve.

It truly does take a community to raise a child, and the Andersen Community is filled with people who care. Anything we do to strengthen and support families in our community helps reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. This month and throughout the year, let's focus our attention on prevention efforts that support parents and create healthier communities for children.

For more information, please call the Family Advocacy Program at 366-5167.