FORT POLK, La. - To coincide with April's designation as Month of the Military Child and Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program hosted a child abuse seminar April 13 at the Warrior Community Center.

Members of Fort Polk's ACS, Child, Youth and School Services, and Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation attended the one-day seminar to listen to Cindi Geeslin, a licensed clinical social worker and Family Advocacy course manager with the Soldier and Family Support Branch at the Army Medical Department Center and School in San Antonio, Texas.

The seminar's theme, "Honoring Our Children," focused on elements needed to build a strong parent/child relationship, the impact of culture on parenting and child development, and recognizing child predators.

Geeslin began the seminar by showing pictures of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, a powerful 7.0 magnitude quake that left the country in rubble.

"This is what happens when you don't have a good foundation," she said, comparing the country's foundation to a family foundation. "As family and communication has broken down, diagnostics of children's mental health has gone up."

To create and maintain strong, healthy parent/child relationships requires parents to start at an early age, according to Geeslin.

"Cultivating a series of core strengths - attachment, self-regulation, affiliation, awareness, attunement and tolerance - provides a strong foundation for your child's future health, happiness and productivity," she said.

Geeslin said the best way to establish a strong foundation with your child is to talk, spend time and get to know them, and the best place to do that is at the dinner table.

"By knowing and honoring your child's individuality, you create a strong relationship with them," she said. "Have dinner together, talk about the day, share stories - it's never too late to reach out."

Having a child victimized can be a parent's worst nightmare. Geeslin said child predators are rarely strangers and often in professions that allow them access to younger children.

Around 90 percent of child predators are men who've known about their sexual desires early in life and their desire for children never goes away, she said.

"Child predators break down the child's resistance with guile, gifts, friendliness or force," she said.
"After abusing the child, victimization is complete when the predator makes the child feel responsible."

The child predator also grooms the community before committing the act, making the community believe that the predator could never do such a thing.

"Dualities of behavior - what we see in public and what we see behind closed doors, is part of a predator's craft," Geeslin said. "We assume if they are nice, they are not capable of doing bad things."

Geeslin said it's impossible for parents to avoid topics like child abuse or sex and should become comfortable with those topics.

"When parents become more comfortable with the subject, kids will be more comfortable talking," she said. "So if something does happen to them, they will be more willing to bring it to the open."

Cindy Driscoll, Installation Family Readiness Support assistant program coordinator, said the seminar gave her a better understanding about child abuse and what she can do to support Fort Polk Soldiers and Family members.

"In the end, it's all about the family - that's why I'm in this job," she said. "I want to make sure families have the best support system possible."

Loretta McGowan, CYSS workforce preparation specialist, said the seminar brings to light a subject that most people don't like to talk about.

"I work with youth between ages 12-18 and I like to think I make a difference in their day, because they make a difference in mine," she said. "This seminar is a reminder of how deceiving child predators can be, which is knowledge I can pass down to Fort Polk's youth."