A Soldier receives a free baby seat safety check from a representative of Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department during the 2019 Baby Palooza event at Fort Drum, New York. The event was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but is making a return this year with safety guidelines in place. (Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
A Soldier receives a free baby seat safety check from a representative of Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department during the 2019 Baby Palooza event at Fort Drum, New York. The event was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but is making a return this year with safety guidelines in place. (Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Michael Strasser) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (March 25, 2021) -- Baby Palooza, family activities and a parenting forum top the list – but they are not nearly all – of the events planned in April to support Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Tom Wojcikowski, Family Advocacy Program (FAP) educator at the Soldier and Family Readiness Center, said that the FAP team developed a full slate of activities for community members with a mix of in-person and virtual opportunities.

“We have a really good FAP team, and everyone contributed some really good ideas,” he said. “We’re doing a lot for Child Abuse Prevention Month, but it’s a way to get a lot of information out there. If you miss one event, there’s going to be a way to get the information from another event.”

Child Abuse Prevention Month events include:

  • Family Communication Grab Bag Event – Fort Drum community members can call (315) 772-5914 to register, and then pick up the grab bag April 1-2 at the Soldier and Family Readiness Center, Bldg. 10250 on 4th Armored Division Drive.

“As a staff, we had this team-building professional development last year that was a really good experience, and so we wanted to convert what we had done there for families,” he said. “We’re developing kits based on those experiential learning activities, and we’re making it so it will work for all age groups. Even if you have a 3- or a 5-year-old, they can participate in these activities and have fun. It’s really good for making connections within the family.”

Each bag includes all of the materials needed (plus instructions) for families to participate in at-home activities during spring break, April 5-9. Wojcikowski said that the activities are designed to build communication and strengthen family foundations, while exploring goals with a focus on family values.

“For example, one activity is about developing listening skills through communication,” he said. “In our class, we talk about how children want to learn from their parents about things, like where they went to school or what they liked to do for fun. So the activity is designed so the parents are sharing that with their kids, and then the kids start to open up and ask questions – and then vice-versa.”

Each activity concludes with a family debriefing, with questions they can answer about what went well or what can they improve upon as a family.

Families can work on their own, or follow along with FAP educators who will post an instructional video with the day’s activity at www.facebook.com/FtdrumFAP.

  • Paint With Your Family – Families can either reserve a painting kit to bring home or paint at the Soldier and Family Readiness Center, from 1 to 3 p.m. April 6 or April 8. Participants can share their masterpieces on the Fort Drum FAP Facebook page. Wojcikowski said these sessions have been popular with community members in the past, and registration fills up fast. To register, call (315) 772-5914.

  • Parenting Key Conversations, How to Reduce Stress and Strengthen Families – Military parents and legal guardians can attend this presentation 11 a.m. to noon April 7 at the Youth Center or view it virtually on Microsoft Teams from 6 to 7 p.m. Topics include identifying indicators of child abuse and neglect and how to create a positive environment around children. Registration is required by calling (315) 772-5914 or receive the MS Teams link by emailing aem277@cornell.edu.

“Parenting is probably the most challenging job a person can ever have, so this presentation goes through ways of reducing stress and how to strengthen that family bond through group communication,” Wojcikowski said. “One of the topics we are really emphasizing through a lot of our events is communication because it is that important to building stronger families.”

  • Child Abuse Prevention for Professionals – This presentation, scheduled 10 to 11 a.m. April 15 at the Soldier and Family Readiness Center, is for all Fort Drum DoD civilians, chaplains and military family life counselors. A virtual session is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. on Microsoft Teams. Email aem277@cornell.edu to register and receive the meeting link. For more information, call (315) 772-5914.

  • Mountain Wellness Month Training – The Soldier and Family Readiness Division will conduct 350-1 training for Soldiers and DoD civilians from 9 to 11:30 a.m. April 16 at the Multipurpose Auditorium. There will be three blocks of instruction from Army Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP), Family Advocacy Program and Financial Readiness Program (FRP). A virtual session is scheduled from 1 to 3:30 p.m. April 16 on Microsoft Teams. To register, call (315) 772-2371.

  • Baby Palooza – The 9th annual Fort Drum Baby Palooza is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 27 at the Family Resource Center, Bldg. 11042, Mount Belvedere Boulevard. The event includes informational booths and demonstrations with several installation and local agencies that serve as resources for parents. Participants also can have baby seats inside their vehicles checked by law enforcement personnel. Per safety guidance for indoor events, people can register for a specific time to attend by calling (315) 772-5914. Family members also can reserve a Mini Baby Bundle door prize when they register.

  • Stay Strong For Them – FAP is teaming up with ASAP for a community weightlifting challenge throughout the month of April. Participants are encouraged to use their favorite fitness facility on post and record the weight lifted there. Individuals will receive a reward decal to place on the blue ribbon display at the gym when they reach a total of 710 pounds lifted. The first gym to reach 710,000 cumulative pounds lifted will be declared the winning gym.

“That’s a big number, so there is a ‘wow’ factor to the challenge,” Wojcikowski said. “But we chose those numbers based on the fact that 700,000 children are abused in the U.S. every year, and 10,000 people die in alcohol-impaired car crashes annually. That adds up to 710,000 preventable incidents.”

FAP organized a similar event last year during Domestic Violence Awareness Month to reach a total number of miles by bicycling.

“The goal is more than just reaching a number,” Wojcikowski said. “It would be great if they’re able to lift that amount, but the intention is to create awareness.”

Teaming up with ASAP is not about sharing responsibilities for the event, but presenting a shared message during Child Abuse Prevention Month and Alcohol Awareness Month.

“The levels of child abuse can increase when substances are introduced into the situation,” Wojcikowski said. “Stress levels go up, anger can go up and then physical or emotional abuse can become more prevalent.”

He said substance abuse creates situations where children may be left unsupervised or a parent drives impaired with a child in the vehicle.

“Leandra’s Law states that if a person gets a DWI with a minor under the age of 15 in the vehicle, a Class E felony is added to the charge of drunk driving,” Wojcikowski said. “If that child is injured or killed, then it’s 15 to 25 years in prison.”

The awareness campaign provides a chance for FAP educators to remind community members of the Fort Drum Age Matrix, which details the safety standards for different age groups. For example, a child cannot be left unattended in a car until the age of 10 (with keys removed and handbrake applied) or a child cannot babysit siblings until the age of 12.

“The age matrix outlines levels of supervision per age that parents are required to provide children,” Wojcikowski said. “Some parents, especially new ones, are not familiar with the age matrix on post so we want to raise awareness to that.”

He said that this is a topic FAP educators address during troop training events, because it may be different from what was enforced at another duty station, if at all.

“We also cover this during newcomers’ briefings and advertise it on our Facebook page, so I think we are getting the message out there every way we can,” Wojcikowski said.

FAP educators also train Soldiers on reporting procedures for child abuse incidents and indicators of harm or neglect.

“Soldiers are mandated to complete troop training on child abuse prevention and, per Talia’s Law, they are mandated to report abuse if they witness it or they have any indication of child abuse,” Wojcikowski said. “At the end of the day, it’s not just because it’s a law. It’s the right thing to do to help save a child. If you think a child is in harm, we have to do the right thing and report it.”

Talia’s Law, which was included in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, made it mandatory for all DoD personnel to report incidents of child abuse or neglect, regardless of whether the family lives on or off post.

Wojcikowski said that if community members have any questions about these laws or issues regarding child abuse, there are plenty of opportunities to ask during Child Abuse Prevention Month, but FAP educators are available yearround.

“Child Abuse Prevention Month may be one month, but it is 12 months for our team,” he said. “What we want to do this month, but really all year, is to raise awareness in the Fort Drum community about child abuse prevention and what child abuse looks like. Through FAP, our goal is to decrease the incidences of child abuse and increase awareness of reporting and how to prevent it.

The FAP office is located in the Soldier and Family Readiness Center, Bldg. 10250 on 4th Armored Division Drive. To learn more about the program, visit https://www.facebook.com/FTdrumFAP or call (315) 772-5914.