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Research Question

  1. What resources and programs are available to military-affiliated families affected by child abuse/neglect or domestic abuse and what access barriers remain?

Family violence occurs in the U.S. military as it does in the civilian population, but unique stresses of military life may contribute to the risk of child abuse or neglect (CAN) and domestic abuse (DA) among service members. The Department of Defense (DoD) holds itself accountable for preventing and addressing CAN and DA and does so primarily through the congressionally mandated Family Advocacy Program (FAP), and also in coordination with other military and civilian services. At the request of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, RAND conducted a multimethod study to review current resources available to military-affiliated victims and perpetrators of CAN and DA, describe the barriers to utilization, document the challenges faced by military service providers working to prevent and respond to CAN and DA, and provide recommendations to improve services. Surveys and interviews with FAP leadership and providers suggest that FAP offers a wide range of important services to military-affiliated families. However, additional targeted resources and stronger leadership support could improve the program, particularly in improving the balance between prevention and response.

Key Findings

FAP serves as a focal point for support services addressing CAN and DA across the military branches

  • Most FAP cases are initiated after a victim calls law enforcement for help.
  • Whether families choose to seek support through FAP or through other military or civilian resources varies based on a wide variety of circumstances.

Barriers to accessing CAN and DA services remain

  • Barriers include the perceived threat of career consequences, desire for privacy, and the shame and embarrassment associated with CAN and DA.
  • The logistical factors perceived as most limiting were the number of available FAP professional staff as well as staff turnover.

Despite the barriers, FAP staff believe that FAP has a positive impact in helping military families overcome CAN and DA

  • Many FAP directors believed that leadership played an important role in FAP's success, but some reported little support from commanders, which can interfere with treatment engagement and success.
  • Also cited as contributing factors to success were the skills and dedication of the professional staff, despite perceived staff shortages.

Most FAP offices report that DV and CAN services are available in the surrounding civilian community

  • FAP offices were particularly likely to be aware of civilian victim advocacy and emergency shelter services.
  • Even though civilian social services were available for many installations and sometimes even formally coordinated with FAP, the FAP offices typically indicated feeling only "neutral" or "satisfied" with these services and their coordination with FAP.

Recommendations

  • Reconsider staffing levels in the Family Advocacy Program.
  • Evaluate outreach efforts across the portfolio of problem-behavior prevention.
  • Identify lessons learned from installations with strong leadership support and community coordination.
  • Explore strategies to reduce barriers to care.
  • Develop and implement strategies to support and speed establishment of memoranda of understanding with off-installation community resources.
  • Consider the balance of prevention and response.

This research was sponsored by the DoD Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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