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Be a superhero for children

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- To children, any adult can be a superhero or a super-villain.

Each year, April is observed as Child Abuse Prevention Month. Awareness activities abound throughout the nation, calling attention to this tragic problem that claims the lives of hundreds of children each year and scars others for life.

Throughout the year, headlines scream the sad tales of another young life lost to careless neglect or the horror of deliberate abuse. Newscasters speak of another baby shaken to death, a toddler left in a hot car to die, or children left alone to burn alive in their own home. Viewers shake their heads, briefly saddened, but unsure if the average person could have played a role to prevent the senseless tragedy, and so not knowing how to help, move on with their own lives.

Could you be a superhero for children? Would you take action to prevent child abuse and perhaps save a child's life if you only knew what to do? You could, and the answer is typically not as dramatic or dangerous as rushing into a burning trailer to pull a wailing infant to safety. There are many little steps that individuals can take that can add up, help build resilience in families and lay the groundwork for happier, safer children.

Offer to babysit for a stressed parent. Look around. Do you know a friend, co-worker or neighbor who could use some time off to unwind and de-stress? Could you offer them some free babysitting so they can get away from the constant pressures of parenthood for a few hours?

Invite your neighbors and their children to go with you to Rhythm Kids/Playgroup. Isolation and loneliness can be factors in child abuse. Stay-at-home parents can be even more vulnerable to both, especially after arriving at a new base, leaving family and friends far behind. It's easy to be a Superhero -- just walk up, knock on the door and ask them to come with you on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at the Balfour Beatty Community Center. Rhythm Kids runs from 10 to 10:30 a.m., followed immediately by Playgroup. These events are for parents and their children up to 5 years old. Chances are, if you reach out to someone else, you'll end up making a new friend yourself.

Tell someone you know where to get help. Give them brochures from some of the helping agencies on or off-base, so they can find out about playgroups, stress and anger management classes, the New Parent Support Program, and parenting classes -- all of which are available on Tinker through the Family Advocacy Program. Find Family Advocacy's calendar on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tinker familyadvocacy.

Join a support group. You can share parenting tips and information with other parents of children up to 6 years old at Circle of Parents. Family Advocacy offers this support group from 10 to 11 a.m. monthly on the first and third Thursdays at the Balfour Beatty Community Center.

Volunteer. What about directly helping children who have been abused or neglected? Or helping those who may not have been, but could use some special attention and a caring adult's time? Volunteer opportunities are everywhere.

Check online (just Google CASA) to find out about being a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer. These volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don't get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in shelters or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.

Not your first choice? What about becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister? This program targets children who need help, including those living in single parent homes, growing up in poverty and coping with parental incarceration. Visit www.bbbsok.org to see how you could be matched with a child who needs your mentoring.

Or simply ask around to see what agencies and organizations need help. Maybe you could volunteer at your own child's school, become a youth sports coach or work with kids in one of the many scouting-type organizations. The opportunities are out there -- the next step is up to you.

Report suspected child abuse and neglect. Superheroes defend and protect the innocent. What could be more innocent than a child? Child abuse can maim the bodies and minds of children. In Oklahoma, everyone is required to report. A superhero would report not just because it's the law, but because it's the right thing to do. Call the Family Advocacy Program at 582-6604 to report suspected abuse involving military personnel and their families. For other reports, call the Oklahoma Department of Human Services Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-522-3511.

For more information on child abuse and neglect, visit the Family Advocacy Office in the 72nd Medical Group, Bldg. 1094.