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April 17, 2014
Cmdr. Julie A. Niven, Embedded Behavioral Health Social Worker, Troop Medial Clinic 1

FORT LEE, Va. (April 17, 2014) -- Each year in April, the President of the United States issues a proclamation to announce National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Preventing child abuse is a 365-day-a-year duty. However, during this national observance, there is an increase in communication aimed at raising awareness of the importance of protecting all children from emotional, verbal, physical and sexual abuse as well as neglect, abandonment and substance abuse.

What is child abuse? The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, as amended and reauthorized by the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010, defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum: "Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker that results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act that presents an imminent risk of serious harm."

As a licensed clinical social worker in the behavioral health department at Kenner Army Health Clinic, I find that many of the advanced individual training service members I meet have a history of one or more types of abuse as a child and/or teenager. I see firsthand the long-term effects of child abuse and neglect.

Many of the AITs who are struggling with life in the Army first struggled as children as they tried to make sense of life when their caregivers were abusive to them.

Child abuse can have a lasting impact on an individual's ability to cope and manage relationships with others.

These students come into an environment in which one of the most important tasks is to get along and work with others, and they lack the skills to do so successfully. This puts them at a distinct disadvantage.

The theme for the month is "Making Meaningful Connections." The goal is to establish meaningful connections with people of all ages in our communities.

This includes individuals who don't have children, to increase awareness of child abuse and child well-being, and increase the capacity of our community to raise happy, healthy children who don't know the physical and emotional scars of abuse.

Are you interested in getting involved in the prevention movement? One of the simplest ways of increasing awareness of child abuse and child well-being is through the media -- whether on a large or small scale.

On a small scale, it can be as simple as starting a conversation on a social media site. On a larger scale, there are public service announcements suitable for the workplace, the printed press, radio and television.

Tell your story -- either as someone who suffered abuse or as someone who grew up in an abuse-free household. Just starting the conversation can be a powerful first step to preventing child abuse.

For more information, visit