What does Family Advocacy really do?

Family Advocacy members pose for a photo at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, April 30, 2015. Family Advocacy offers many services to help families live safe, happy and healthy lifestyles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessica H. Smith/RELEASED)

Family Advocacy members pose for a photo at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, April 30, 2015. Family Advocacy offers many services to help families live safe, happy and healthy lifestyles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessica H. Smith/RELEASED)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- To some, the Family Advocacy Program seems like a team of intruders barging into your life telling you what you do as a parent or spouse is wrong. This unfortunate misconception tends to shed a negative light on Family Advocacy. Falling under Mental Health only worsens things, attaching an awful stigma that many believe to be true.

Many people tend to think they'll be labeled and others will see them as unfit to handle certain tasks, unable to efficiently do their job.

"The stigma is out there," said Darin Gere, 366th Medical Group, Family Advocacy Program treatment manager. "Contributing to it is our human tendency to categorize people, to judge people."

Gere believes the only way to eliminate this stigma is to have successful treatment. Family Advocacy encourages people to come in voluntarily for preventive services, which includes a variety of classes and counseling options that are available to anyone.

Unfortunately, more people come in due to a report made against them. Gere feels this goes back to the fear people have of being involved with mental health. Sadly, the preventive services aren't taken advantage of as much as Family Advocacy would hope.

"[People] believe [it's] personal, private, nobody else's business," Gere said. "We feel shame when we can't handle our personal issues, when we feel like we need someone else, like we've not measured up to our standards as a human being, a husband, wife [or] parent."

Once a report is made, it's required that it be investigated, regardless of who reported it or how unrealistic the accusations may seem.

"It doesn't matter how crazy the allegations are, we have to look into it," said Captain David Snowden, Family Advocacy Program officer.

Family Advocacy will look into the accusation and the history of those involved to determine whether to move forward in the assessment process. If they believe the claim is false or don't consider it to be abuse, the case will be closed as "no reasonable suspicions." If the allegation is plausible they move onto the next step; interviews.

"We call everybody involved," Snowden said. "That could be witnesses, the victim, the offender, the unit, command, everybody gives an interview."

Snowden explained that during interviews, more accusations tend to come out.

"They'll be able to tell their side of the story and we'll say 'yep, this is reasonable, this probably did happen' or they'll completely blow the allegations out and say stuff we know is ridiculous," he said.

Despite how absurd some claims may sound during the interviews, the investigation must go forward in the process and move onto the central registry board. The CRB consists of Family Advocacy workers, Wing Vice Commander, Legal Office, Office of Special Investigations, Security Forces and the victim and offender's commands.

Everybody on the board presents the information they have on the incident and the people involved. After the board process has begun everything is out of Family Advocacy's hands; the case then goes through a voting system.

"It's very objective, very straight forward, yes or no," Snowden said.
Definitions and examples of what can be considered abuse or maltreatment are provided to assure precise answers.

"If there's enough yes's then it constitutes abuse and if there's a certain amount of no's then it'll come back as not met," Snowden said.

If it's deemed as abuse the command then has the option of working with the Legal Office and deciding what kind of consequences they want to implement. Family Advocacy has no involvement in this stage at all.

"Family Advocacy is a treatment providing organization," Gere said. "We don't do consequences, consequences happen in the legal system."

Snowden explained that Family Advocacy even lets the offender make decisions in their treatment plan.

"We'll make sure they're getting the treatment they want as well as what they need," he said.

For those who come out of the investigation all clear, treatment is still an option.

"They're welcome to come back, and a lot of times they do," Snowden said. "Usually they find that they like working with us, but it's not required."

Gere said those who choose to engage in treatment voluntarily are less likely to be in trouble in the future and less likely to repeat the patterns that got them reported in the first place.

Regardless of the investigation outcome, everything remains confidential.

"People are so worried about being labeled an abuser, and they think that their reputation is going to get slammed," Snowden said. "That information is never released to anybody; it stays with the people in that room. In fact, they don't even get to keep records of it."

Snowden keeps the only record and is only allowed to access it for very specific reasons concerning the individual's safety and well-being.

It may seem as though Family Advocacy is sticking their noses in other people's business, but in reality they're only trying to help families live safe and healthy lifestyles.

"We work as much as we can with our nurses and outreach manager to provide education so hopefully maltreatment never occurs. When it does occur, we investigate and provide treatment for both the victims and the offenders," Snowden said. "Some people don't like that process. It's invasive; it's scary, but it's got to be done."