National Child Abuse Prevention Month was in April and recognizes the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect. Services developed by this collaboration can help protect children and strengthen families.
Tim Rolfe, family advocacy program manager at Army Community Service, has worked in the family violence prevention field for 26 years. He shared the importance of raising child abuse awareness on Redstone. Rolfe said he was once a victim of child abuse.
“Growing up in a single-parent home and watching my mother escape an abusive relationship from my father, and then struggling to make ends meet year after year for me and my three siblings had an enormous impact on me while growing up,” he said. “In this line of work, we often see children adopt the behaviors that were role-modeled for them, or they decide to use it as fuel to make a difference when they enter adulthood. I suppose my childhood experiences served as the initial fuel to help other families in need.”
Rolfe has been in the field of social work since he was an undergraduate social work student at Jacksonville State University in 1996. He began working at a group home for children while studying at JSU and fell in love with the idea of helping children and families.
“In my opinion, there is no greater cause in life than helping a family in need as there are so many families struggling to provide a nurturing home environment that every child deserves,” he said. “After serving in the Army from 1992-1995, I also developed a special place in my heart for military families. As a young married Soldier, I quickly noticed the challenges within the military lifestyle, which can often be even greater than that of our civilian counterparts given the unique mission of our service members, and their families. Serving our nation’s military in the capacity of a social worker seemed to be the best of both worlds for me professionally. I feel my personal experiences serve as critical intrinsic motivators that are needed to do this job well daily and I am extremely passionate when it comes to serving our nation’s finest.”
Rolfe said it’s important to focus on child abuse awareness year-round and he has never seen a “typical” case of child abuse. Every situation that the family advocacy program encounters has its own set of circumstances that are unique to individual families. Reports range from severe and egregious to situations that may be considered minor oversights on behalf of the parent or caregiver that have the potential of resulting in some form of harm to the child. It’s important the FAP response recognizes this dynamic so that appropriate levels of interventions are provided to the family for best possible outcomes.
According to Rolfe, when a community is united in the stand against child abuse and is more aware of how to recognize and respond when situations arise, children are better protected and outcomes for families improve. A quick response and implementation of effective interventions at the first indication of risk increases a child’s ability to thrive in a safer home environment.
Rolfe said the Army’s reporting systems allow family advocacy professionals to track the number of child abuse and neglect cases that take place annually. Of the more than 42,000 reported incidents of child abuse involving service members from 2015-19, 74% involved physical abuse, 22% were defined as emotional abuse, 4% were sexual abuse, and less than 1% were neglect, according to the GAO Report to Congressional Committee, May 2021. In 2022, the Army’s annual Fatality Review Report determined that 32 children died due to issues of abuse or neglect in the home. The most common child fatality was due to unsafe sleeping or co-sleeping habits of the parent or caregiver.
Rolfe said the family advocacy program is implementing new initiatives to support victims of child abuse on Redstone. A new initiative to better support victims of child abuse includes FAP’s clinical response through the Incident Determination Committee, formerly known as the Case Review Committee, which meets monthly and is chaired by the Garrison commander. The IDC at Redstone Arsenal was established in August 2022. The committee is a multi-disciplinary team of professionals that reviews child abuse cases and makes determinations of meeting or not meeting criteria established within the Decision Tree Algorithm, which is an evidence-based best practice for the Army. This process provides recommendations to unit commanders for treatment and intervention services to assist military families in crisis. Also, the incident determination committee is proving to be a more effective approach as it incorporates more command involvement with the Garrison commander playing a key role in facilitating the meetings and having a vote at the table. Unit commanders also have a vote during the IDC meetings, which was not the case with the prior case review committee process.