- Provide leadership as your organization recovers from an allegation.
- Describe ways to partner with families to identify and prevent child abuse and neglect.
- Articulate the role of FAP in supporting families.
- Describe the stress and protective factors related to child abuse and neglect.
- Identify resources in your program and community for supporting families.
Think about these three words: Safety, Stability, and Nurture. What do they mean? Think about a relationship in your own life that was represented by these three words. What did others in the relationship do that made it feel safe, stable, and nurturing? What impact did that relationship have on your life? Whether you recognize it or not, relationships like these likely shaped your outlook on the world and your ability to succeed. Let’s take a look at a few relationships that could be considered safe, stable, and nurturing.
Like all families, Chandra’s, Charlotte’s, and Ravi’s families have experienced some stress. Whether faced with single parenting, relocation, separation, financial or job-related stress, strong families are resilient and bounce back. No matter what, they make sure their children have safe, stable, and nurturing relationships. Chandra’s mom has extended family support, close friends, and a strong bond with her infant. She is beginning to build a strong relationship with the caregiver at the child development center. Charlotte’s parents understand her emotional needs. They help her maintain connections with old friends and build new friendships. Ravi’s family communicates with one another, celebrates one another, and spends time connecting and reconnecting.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider safe, stable, and nurturing relationships like these one of the “essentials of childhood.” Let’s explore how the Centers for Disease Control define these three words.
- Safety: Safety is “the extent to which a child is free from fear and secure from physical or psychological harm.” This means that adults protect child from harm. Adults regulate their own emotions and monitor children’s development.
- Stability: Stability is “the degree of predictability and consistency in a child’s environment.” This means the child comes to learn that the world is a manageable place. Consistent family routines are one way stability is provided for children.
- Nurture: Nurture is “the extent to which a parent or caregiver is available and able to sensitively respond to and meet the needs of their child.”
Safety, stability, and nurturing relationships are important throughout our lives. Unfortunately, trauma (like abuse or neglect) can damage or destroy a child’s sense of safety, stability, and nurture. This impacts development. Now think about the children, ages birth to 12, in your programs. Do all of them have relationships that are safe, stable, and nurturing? Based on what you have learned already in this course, it is clear that for some children the answer is, “no.” We do not have to accept that for an answer, though. It is our job to help strengthen families and help each and every person look back on their childhood and answer, “yes.”
You can do this by being aware of the stressors affecting your families. Being involved in a suspected case of child abuse or neglect can bring a great deal of stress to a family. The rest of this lesson will focus on (a) the behaviors or issues you might see after a family has been involved in a report and (b) how to help families that have experienced this kind of trauma. Remember: any time you are uncomfortable or don’t know what to do, talk to FAP or social workers about resources or ideas. You do not need to face anything alone.
Supervise & Support
Supporting Families that Have Experienced Trauma
Many families who are involved in allegations of child abuse or neglect have experienced some kind of trauma. This might mean they experienced abuse or neglect themselves as children. There may also be domestic violence toward adults in the home. They may experience family or community violence. Even the simple fact that they are involved in an allegation of abuse or neglect constitutes trauma for some families.
Trauma can influence how a family interacts with you. Look for these characteristics (Preventing Child Maltreatment, 2013):
- Families that have experienced trauma may find it difficult to build trusting relationships with you. It might not be easy for them to trust anyone.
- Families might perceive aggression or danger where it does not exist. They may struggle with keeping themselves or their children safe. You might find yourself questioning their decision-making.
- They may abuse drugs or alcohol.
- They may have a hard time controlling their emotions.
- They may seem numb or “shut down.”
The following list of strategies is from the Preventing Child Maltreatment and Promoting Well-Being: A Network for Action 2013 Resource Guide. Consider ways you can use these strategies to support families who have experienced trauma:
- Understand that parents’ reactions (including anger, resentment, or avoidance) may be reactions to trauma. Do not take them personally.
- Remember that parents who have experienced trauma are not “bad.” Blaming or judging them is likely to make the situation worse.
- Recognize that all parents want the children to be safe and healthy. Compliment parents’ good decisions and healthy choices when you see them.
- Stay calm, and keep your voice as neutral and non-threatening as possible. Model direct and honest communication.
- Be consistent. When you make a commitment, follow through.
- Be aware that you could experience secondary traumatic stress, which can occur when you see or hear about trauma to others. Take care of yourself and take time to address your own reactions when you feel you are getting overwhelmed.
You should become aware of the resources available to families in your communityMIL or on your installation:
- The military Family Advocacy Program, victim advocacy, and transitional compensation exist to address family abuse through prevention, intervention, treatment and victim assistance. Visit http://www.militaryonesource.mil/abuse for more information.
- The Family Readiness System (FRS) is the network of programs, services, people, and agencies, and the collaboration among them, that promotes the readiness and quality of life of service members and their families. The services available through the Family Readiness System can help families develop new skills and tackle life’s challenges in every stage of military life. Services vary by installation but may include: mobility and deployment assistance, relocation assistance, personal financial management, spouse education and career services, family life education, emergency family assistance, domestic abuse prevention and response services, child-abuse prevention and response services, new parent support, exceptional family member support, non-medical individual and family counseling, transition assistance, morale, welfare, and recreation, and Information and referral.
- Non-medical counseling is available to all Service members and their families at no cost. Non-medical counseling programs provide confidential, short-term counseling to active duty members, National Guard and reserve service members and their families. Counselors possess a master’s or doctorate degree in a mental health field and are licensed or certified in a state, territory or the District of Columbia to practice independently. Non-medical counseling is designed to address issues such as improving relationships at home and work, stress management, adjustment issues (for example, returning from a deployment), marital problems, parenting, and a grief and loss issues. These personal sessions are available face-to-face, by phone, and online. Non-medical counseling is not designed to address long-term issues such as child abuse or neglect, domestic violence, suicidal ideation and mental health issues, but it can be an option for families that are facing short-term stressors. For more information, visit https://www.militaryonesource.mil/confidential-help/non-medical-counseling.
Interactions that Support Families
Take some time to think about how you can support families who have experienced trauma, abuse or neglect. Read these scenarios and think about how you would respond.
One of your staff members recently reported a suspicion of abuse concerning Desmond's family. Desmond's father is irate. He is very angry that he got a call at work from investigators, and he wants to know who made the report. Although information about the report was not disclosed to him, he knows it had to have come from the program. He wants to talk to the person who is "out to get" his family and who is "spreading lies". He accuses the program of emotionally abusing his child and libeling his family. He says he is going to the media, the police, and the commander.
Marlow's mother has been the victim of domestic violence. You have never seen any signs of abuse against Marlow, but you know his mother experiences a range of violence. She has left Marlow's father several times, but she always goes back. You suspect that Marlow and his siblings see the domestic violence and emotional abuse occur against their mother. Lately, Marlow has been having some problems with behavior in the program. You schedule a meeting with his parents, and only his mom attends. At first, she does not look you in the eye. After a few minutes, she says, "Why don't you just go ahead and tell me Marlow's a bad kid? I've heard it about his brothers. I've heard it about his daddy. I love my babies, but I know what you're going to say."
The media recently picked up on a story about alleged abuse in your program. The allegations are under investigation, and the suspected staff member has been reassigned to a position away from children. Families are in an uproar. They are demanding to know who the suspected abuser is, what happened, where, and with whom.
Take some time to reflect on what your program is doing to strengthen families. Use the Strengthening Families Program Self-Assessment created by the Center for the Study of Social Policy. For more information about this tool and resources to support it, visit https://cssp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/FAMILY-CHILD-CARE-PROGRAM-SELF-ASSESSMENT.pdf
Sit down with your program’s leadership team and reflect on how your program is performing along the five protective factors. Use the Strengthening Families Program Self-Assessment to evaluate where you are and where you want to go. Then use the Planning Matrix to help set your course.
Strengthening Families Program Self-Assessment
These tip sheets from Preventing Child Maltreatment and Promoting Well-Being: A Network for Action 2013 Resource Guide are designed to be distributed to families to address a particular parenting concern or question. The information is easy to read and focuses on concrete strategies parents and caregivers can use to take care of their children and strengthen their families. Each tip sheet is available in English and Spanish.
Download and print the Tip Sheets. Be prepared to share them with families or put them in your program’s family resource area.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007). Preventing Child Sexual Abuse within Youth-Serving Organizations: Getting Started on Policies and Procedures. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/preventingchildsexualabuse-a.pdf
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.). Strategic Direction for Child Maltreatment Prevention: Preventing Child Maltreatment Through the Promotion of Safe, Stable, and Nurturing Relationships Between Children and Caregivers.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Violence Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/
Center for the Study of Social Policy (2020). Strengthening Families: A Protective Factors Framework. https://cssp.org/our-work/projects/protective-factors-framework/
Eccles J. S., & Gootman J. A. (Eds.). (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Felitti, Vince J. et al. (1998) Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 14, p 245-258. doi:10.1016/S0749-3797(98)00017-8 https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/about.html
Harper Browne, C. (2014). The Strengthening Families Approach and Protective Factors Framework: Branching out and reaching deeper. Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Social Policy. https://cssp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Branching-Out-and-Reaching-Deeper.pdf
Harris, Nadine Burke. (2014, September) Nadine Burke Harris: How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime [Video file]. https://www.ted.com/talks/nadine_burke_harris_how_childhood_trauma_affects_health_across_a_lifetime
Karageorge, K. & Kendall, R. (2008). The Role of Professional Child Care Providers in Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect. Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children's Bureau.
Military Family Advocacy Programs. http://www.militaryonesource.mil/abuse/service-providers
Seibel, N. L., Britt, D., Gillespie, L. G., & Parlakian, R. (2006). Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, DC: Zero to Three: Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families.
Zero to Three: Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families. (2006). The Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/91-the-prevalence-of-child-abuse-and-neglect