Risk for child abuse increases after return from Army deployment

While abuse and neglect among military families is lower than that of the general population, identifying the risk can allow the armed forces to better help active duty soldiers and their families.

By Stephen Feller
A U.S. soldier in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2013. Photo by Sgt. J.A. Moeller/ U.S. Army
A U.S. soldier in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2013. Photo by Sgt. J.A. Moeller/ U.S. Army | License Photo

PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Children of U.S. Army soldiers may be at greater risk for abuse during the six months after a parent returns from deployment, and the risk increases for the children of soldiers deployed more than once, according to a new study.

The study was funded by the Defense Health Program to assess the abuse risk in Army families in order to develop support programs to prevent or deal with child maltreatment issues.


"While incidents of child abuse and neglect among military families are well below that of the general population, this study is another indicator of the stress deployments place on soldiers, family members and caregivers," said Karl F. Schneider, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, in a press release.

Researchers at PolicyLab, a research unit at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, reviewed substantiated reports of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and neglect, collected by the Department of Defense's Family Advocacy Program, as well as medical diagnoses of the maltreatment of children from TRICARE. The records were collected between 2001 and 2007 for the children of 112,325 deployed U.S. Army soldiers.


Researchers found that during the first six months after deployment, the risk for child abuse is elevated, with 4.43 substantiated maltreatment reports and 4.96 diagnoses per 10,000 child-months.

For soldiers deployed twice, researchers found the highest maltreatment rate was during soldiers' second deployment, at 4.83 episodes per 10,000 child-months, and before the first deployment for diagnoses, at 3.78 per 10,000 child-months. The rate of substantiated abuse and neglect doubled during soldiers' second deployments, and was found to "usually" be perpetrated by a non-soldier.

Researchers said they focused on the first two years of children's lives because they are often a time of high stress for families, and the stress of either being deployed or coming back from deployment can intensify that stress significantly.

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In the case of episodes during a soldier's second deployment, Christine Taylor, a project manager at PolicyLab, said the study "reveals to us the stress that plays out in Army families during or after deployment impacts the entire family."

The study is published in the American Journal of Public Health.

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