Rates of child maltreatment in enlisted soldiers' families greater during combat-related deployments

July 31, 2007

Children of enlisted soldiers experience greater rates of neglect and maltreatment during periods of combat-related deployments, according to a study in the August 1 issue of JAMA, a theme issue on violence and human rights.

Parental stress is believed to play an important role in child maltreatment, which includes neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse. Combat-related deployments have been associated with increased stress among nondeployed parents. Few studies have examined child maltreatment within U.S. military families, of which there were more than 1.1 million with children younger than 18 years in 2004, according to background information in the article.

Deborah A. Gibbs, M.S.P.H., of RTI International, Research Triangle Park, N.C., and colleagues examined the impact of combat-related deployment between September 2001 and December 2004 on 1,771 families of enlisted soldiers in the U.S. Army who had 1 or more substantiated reports of child maltreatment.

Of these families, the researchers found that a total of 1,858 parents maltreated their children, and that the rate of child maltreatment during soldier deployments was 42 percent higher than the rate of child maltreatment at times when soldiers were not deployed. The occurrence of moderate or severe maltreatment was about 60 percent higher during deployment vs. nondeployment; the rate of child neglect was almost twice as high when soldiers were deployed compared to when the soldiers were not deployed. In contrast, the rates of physical and emotional abuse were lower during deployment than during nondeployment.

Additional analyses found that the child maltreatment incidents during deployment and nondeployment differed in terms of the characteristics of the parent-offenders: the rate of child maltreatment by female civilians was more than three times greater during times of deployment. The occurrence of maltreatment during deployment also was elevated among male civilians but not significantly so. The rate of child neglect by civilian female spouses was especially elevated during the times that their soldier-husbands were deployed, being almost four times the rate of child neglect during other times. In addition, the occurrence of spouses' physical abuse of their children was elevated during deployments, nearly twice the nondeployment rate.

"... our research findings provide information that may help to inform policy and practice regarding child maltreatment, including the Army's Family Advocacy Program and clinicians and child welfare professionals in communities with military populations. The findings confirm the need for supportive and preventive services for Army families during times of deployment," the authors write.

The researchers add that the Army does offer a number of services to families to address these issues, including child care and support groups for spouses of deployed soldiers. "Nevertheless, the greater rate of child maltreatment associated with deployments suggests the need for enhanced support for civilian parents in terms of additional resources, more effective services, development of services that those parents at greatest risk will be likely to seek out and accept, and greater outreach to connect parents to services."
(JAMA. 2007;298(5):528-535. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org)

Editor's Note: Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

For More Information: Contact the JAMA/Archives Media Relations Department at 312-464-JAMA or email: mediarelations@jama-archives.org.

The JAMA Network Journals

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