Ellsworth programs work to prevent child abuse

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kate Maurer
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Countless professionals on base help keep child abuse cases to a minimum - when it comes to children, however, any case is one too many.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to reflect on the many ways the Ellsworth community can help identify and help resolve child abuse.

There are several ways to prevent, identify and help resolve child maltreatment.

"The most common factor I've seen contributing to child abuse is overwhelmed parents under a lot of stress," said Lee Sasse, 28th Medical Operations Squadron Family Advocacy Program outreach manager. "The best way to help with that stress is to establish a healthy support network and be prepared before we become parents."

There are a variety of programs and classes offered on base, that can help anyone deal with the stress of adding children to a family. One program that is recommended by the FAP and great for families expecting or who already have young children is the New Parent Support Program.

"I'm here to help military parents be the best parents possible," said Helen Romeyn, 28th Medical Group FAP nurse and New Parent Support Program manager.

The NPSP allows Romeyn to visit homes, on a volunteer basis, where families are expecting babies or have children under 3. Romeyn is a registered nurse, certified lactation consultant and has been involved with the military for 30 years, making her well equipped to answer questions parents may have about their child's behavior, development or routines, as well as calming and de-stressing techniques. The NPSP must be volunteered for, and is not mandated by any agency that focuses on suspected or known child maltreatment.

"It's a total privilege to be invited into someone's home," Romeyn said. "I want the family to feel complete joy with their children, not stress."

Programs like this exist at almost every Air Force base and at installations across the Department of Defense. The NPSP provides education to families that has proven to effectively reduce the stressors that commonly lead to child maltreatment.

Romeyn added that a common stressor she's seen is that military families are often separated from their other family members that could otherwise provide a much needed support system, especially when stationed overseas.

"My best advice: do not isolate," Romeyn said. "Do not isolate yourself and, whether you have children or not, get to know your neighbors."

Sasse said that most of the parents referred for child abuse never had any intention of harming anyone they just wanted their child to listen, follow directions or stop misbehaving. Having a good support network of neighbors, friends, and fellow parents can help us through the tough spots, give us break, and provide us with parenting tools and ideas.

"If you walk into your neighbor's house or yard and the way children are being treated makes you uncomfortable, try to help or report it," Romeyn said.

There are obvious signs of abuse like ongoing patterns of unexplained or poorly explained injuries to a child such as bumps, bruises, and/or burns to areas of the body that normally wouldn't get injured during typical play and exploration. Neglect and emotional abuse however, can be harder to identify. There is no shame in reporting suspected child maltreatment.

"When law enforcement responds to a child abuse call, we're not there to make parents look like bad parents or blame them immediately for an incident," said Robert O'Brien, 28th Security Forces Squadron detective. "Our first concern is the child or children."

The Ellsworth community has done well at teaming up to make on-base cases so rare.

"In the nine years I've been at Ellsworth, I have experienced very few cases case where families have completed my program and were later suspected of child abuse," Romeyn said.

But as everyone knows, any case is one too many.

If you suspect or know of any child maltreatment call the FAP at (605) 385-3660, or the 28th SFS at (605) 385-4001. If you suspect or witness an emergency, call 911 immediately.

For more information on classes and programs to help families cope with stress or network with other families, call the Airman and Family Readiness Center at (605) 385-4663. For more information on what constitutes child abuse or neglect contact the 28th SFS, local law enforcement, or your first sergeant.