Program helps prevent, deal with domestic violence

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Richard B. Searles
  • Office of the Surgeon General Public Affairs
The Department of Defense considers all forms of family violence as unacceptable and provides extensive resources that focus on prevention, intervention and treatment.

The Air Force's Family Advocacy Program, charged with the prevention and treatment of family maltreatment, has the shared goal of enhancing the health and well-being of Air Force families and communities so that servicemembers can focus on the mission and their job performance.

The program provides a comprehensive set of services and proactive programs to families and military members that include prevention, community collaboration and treatment, said officials.

"Our role is to be a leader in the Air Force at addressing domestic violence," said Col. Martha L. Davis, the Air Force's chief of the FAP located at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas. "One of our primary objectives is to build resilient, healthy communities and you can't achieve that with family violence going on."

Families in the military are not immune to the occurrence of family violence and the Air Force uses a comprehensive approach to deal with it. This normally involves all members of the chain of command. The program emphasizes awareness, prevention, early identification and treatment for family maltreatment.

These approaches appear to be working as the rates of Air Force spouse maltreatment have not increased over the past decade.

"We're seeing a change in the type of maltreatment cases we manage," said Lt. Col. Dari Tritt, director of family advocacy research. "Air Force spouse physical maltreatment cases currently represent a slightly lower proportion of total cases compared to five years ago. Spouse emotional abuse cases seen by FAP personnel have slightly increased, indicating our earlier intervention with couples who have not yet used physical violence."

Research and evaluation indicates that FAP prevention and treatment interventions with Air Force families reduce distress and increase family cohesion and marital satisfaction, leading to less use of violence in the home.

"We believe most family violence is treatable and doesn't have to ruin a person's career," said Pam Collins, the program manager who oversees treatment policies. "It's a myth that careers are automatically ruined by coming to family advocacy for services.

"Domestic violence offenders must be held accountable for their actions; however, they can stop using violence in their families with help and can develop safe homes," Collins said. "Many families choose to stay together after abuse has occurred or ultimately want to be reunited. Most active duty members in families who receive intervention go on to complete successful military careers."

Although the majority of FAP customers are married, referral services are available for anyone needing assistance.

"We can provide assistance to anyone who feels they are in a volatile relationship," said Davis. "It doesn't matter if they're married, single or divorced."

Although success of the FAP can be attributed to the creation of new programs over the past several years, it cannot be successful without quality people to carry out its' mission, said officials.

"FAP staff who see maltreatment referrals are master's degree-level clinical social workers," said Davis. "Before being hired, social workers must have at least two years experience working with child/spouse maltreatment. They must also be licensed in a United States jurisdiction for clinical practice and be certified to practice independently."

This level of training is crucial to the development and implementation of successful prevention and intervention programs.

One of the programs developed over the past several years to deal with domestic violence is the High Risk for Violence Response Team. These multidisciplinary teams located on all Air Force installations get together when there is indication of a possible volatile situation. The family advocacy officer heads the team. Other members on the team include security forces, the active-duty member's squadron commander, and representatives from the life skills support clinic and Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

FAP officials have taken a community response approach when dealing with allegations of child or spousal abuse.

"Our role is to assess all family members for what they may have witnessed and any maltreatment they have experienced," said Davis. "We're here to assist with the safety of all the family members including suicidal and homicidal issues, and any other risk for family maltreatment."

Additionally, FAP officials have made significant progress in using automation to standardize and ensure uniform assessments across the Air Force.

"We have processes and products that are built into our software so commanders, first sergeants and clients receive standardized information at each FAP [location] they encounter," said Davis. "This has greatly enhanced our credibility with customers, while allowing us to provide the best clinical care possible to our clients."

While credibility is something the FAP has built over the years, Davis said there are still misconceptions about using the programs.

"Some people are under the belief that we're in the practice of tricking people into thinking we're a confidential organization and then reporting them to other agencies," said Davis. "Before we do any interviewing, our customers are informed about our limits of confidentiality."

Success of the FAP is also contingent upon ensuring the community is knowledgeable and aware of domestic violence in order to developing sensitivity to the problem, according to Bettye Williams, program manager for outreach and community prevention.

"We help the community to understand they have a shared responsibility for creating a nonviolent environment," said Williams. "We make communities aware of the empowerment they have to change things and to take action on domestic violence. Our prevention programs are focused on making a strong positive impact on the knowledge, attitudes and behavior of individuals, families and communities."

"We believe domestic violence receives its power in part from beliefs and attitudes," said Williams. "We focus on the proactive solutions and give them prevention strategies."

One of these prevention strategies is the establishment of the New Parent Support Program. Considering many Air Force families are young and away from home and family, they may require additional support during stressful times such as when expecting a child or parenting young children. The NPSP was specifically created to assist young families during this period and is a voluntary prevention home visitation program. Home visits are conducted by registered nurses and social workers who provide Air Force families with education on parenting a newborn, what to expect during and after pregnancy, dealing with toddler behavior in a positive way and, in turn, reducing the stress of parenting issues. The NPSP staff also assists with couple-issues and risk factors that may lead to partner abuse.

"The NPSP has an outcome focus of prevention of family violence, with the goal to have the military service member mission ready," said Martha Salas, NPSP program manager. "We have a highly successful engagement rate with our families; 63 percent of Air Force families offered the program choose to participate in it."

Air Force FAP partners widely with civilian agencies outside military installations and with nationally recognized family violence experts, continually striving to find ways to improve existing programs and develop new ones.

"People need to know that help is available and that no one deserves to be abused," said Davis.

Officials urge people who believe they are a victim of domestic violence or believe someone else may be, to contact their local family advocacy office or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233.