FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- In an effort to protect its present and its future Families and Soldiers, Army officials have organized events in support of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness months.

The month-long campaigns are not immediately linked but both occur in April, according to Stella Davis, Family Advocacy Program manager.

The Army started the Child Abuse and Neglect program in 1981, but the issues still exist, especially in military Families. Recent research published in the "Journal of American Medical Association" suggests "some Army children with (parents deployed) to Iraq and Afghanistan are at greater risks for child neglect," Davis said.

Deployment stressors, such as parenting alone or having anxiety for those in combat, can contribute to increases in injury and abuse, she added.

While abuse can be obvious, neglect can be hard to define and identify. Neglect can be anything from a lack of emotional support to "failure to provide food, clothing, shelter, medical attention and supervision," Davis said.

To combat child abuse and neglect, Fort Rucker officials conduct a few programs in support of the Army-wide theme "Children Are Our Future: Let's Keep Our Future Safe by Protecting the Child."

Army Community Services hosts the Family Fun Run/Walk April 10 at 9:30 a.m. at the Fort Rucker Physical Fitness Facility.

Registration costs $7 before Sunday for anyone over 18 months old and $10 afterward. Those interested can register at the Child Development Center, Child, Youth and School Services or at either physical fitness facility. For more information, call 255-3898.

Parents can help their babies learn sign language during two workshops at the Early Childhood Activity Center on Dean Street. One occurs April 12 from 9:30 to 11 a.m., while the other happens April 21 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. For more information, call 255-3359.

Infant massages occur April 19 from 9:30 to 11 a.m., and parents can learn how to provide adequate medical attention to their children through a free cardiopulmonary and first aid training session April 30 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Both events are at the Early Childhood Activity Center, and those interested can register by calling FAP at 255-3898.

All of these events encourage positive parent-child interaction, Davis said. Some events also promote awareness of child abuse and neglect issues.

"These get the (message) out there that this is still a social issue," she said.

Davis promotes community involvement as a combating force to child abuse prevention. She said even good parents need a helping hand at times.

According to FAP educational material, community members should reach out helping hands if they see parents struggling and volunteer with child abuse prevention programs. Davis also encourages community members to volunteer time with children to provide another positive influence or give parents a break.

One program Davis said helps community members prepare for parenthood is the New Parent Support Program.

According to Andrea Bowen, a home visitor with NPSP, program staff provides education to parents from the prenatal stage through when their children are 3 years old. Educational issues addressed in home visits include what to look for in child development, childproofing homes and what to do in emergencies, she said.

Bowen said many military Families are away from other immediate Family members who can provide support and parenting knowledge. Through play groups and social outings, NPSP fills that void. The play groups and social outings not only develop children's social skills, but they also allow parents to exchange knowledge about issues they have encountered.

"It's to help parents become successful parents and learn to deal with stressors in a more positive way," she said.

For more information on NPSP, call 255-3359 or 255-3898.

April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The Department of Defense first initiated the servicemember-driven Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program in 2005, Davis said.

According to a recent "New York Times" article, the Department of Defense noticed an 11-percent increase in number of sexual assaults reported in the 2009 fiscal year. Pentagon officials attributed the upward trend to an increase in the number of reports, not an increase in actual incidents, which Davis agreed.

When the SAPRP was initiated, it allowed Soldiers to report sexual assault incidents on a restricted basis, meaning no legal investigation could occur without their consent, Davis said. Restricted reports still allow victims to seek counseling from chaplains, victim advocates and sexual response coordinators as well as receive medical attention, if necessary.

Davis said military officials want to prosecute any sexual misconduct, but sometimes victims are not comfortable with that initially after the incident. Even with restricted reporting available, Davis said officials believe sexual assault is an underreported crime.

To eliminate sexual assaults, Fort Rucker officials have a few activities planned to raise awareness and prevention through the Army theme of "Hurts One, Affects All ... Preventing Sexual Assault is Everyone's Duty."

ACS conducts four "Lunch and Learn" sessions on Wednesdays from noon to 1 p.m. at the Chapel of Wings Annex beginning April 7. For more information about topics addressed, call 255-9644 or 379-7946.

Local law enforcement officer and retired Sgt. Maj. Eldridge Conley, who runs his own martial arts academy in Enterprise, conducts a self-defense class April 16 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fortenberry-Colton Physical Fitness Facility. According to instructor CW3 Raymond Massey, the "entire event is focused on situational awareness in sexual assault prevention."

The program is open to anyone of any age. To register, call 255-3898 or 255-3108.

Despite an increase in sexual assault reports, Davis said some statistics show a decrease in both child abuse and neglect and sexual assault cases. She attributes the efforts to awareness campaigns such as the ones post officials offer next month.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16