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Jul-31-2007 14:37printcomments

War Deployments Responsible for Increased Child Abuse, Neglect

The study was funded by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.

iraq war photo
Photo courtesy: DOD

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Confirmed incidents of child abuse and neglect among Army families significantly increase when a parent is deployed to a combat zone, according to a new study by researchers at RTI International and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health.

The study, which appears in the Aug. 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, compares the rates of child abuse and neglect among nearly 2,000 Army families with confirmed incidents of child abuse or neglect.

Researchers compared rates of abuse and neglect while enlisted soldiers were at home and while they were deployed for combat operations between late 2001 and the end of 2004.

The study was funded by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.

Researchers found that the overall rate of child abuse and neglect was more than 40 percent higher while a soldier-parent was deployed for a combat tour than when he or she was at home.

"Because this study measured incidents of child abuse and neglect within individual families during times of deployment and non-deployment, the evidence is pretty strong that combat-related deployments are responsible for the increase," said Deborah Gibbs, M.S.P.H., a senior health analyst at RTI and the study's lead author. "These findings were consistent regardless of parents' age, rank or ethnic background, indicating that deployments are difficult for all kinds of families."

Civilian mothers whose soldier-husbands were deployed showed the greatest increase in the rate of child abuse and neglect during deployment, with their rate of child physical abuse being nearly twice as high during deployments and their rate of child neglect, in which parents do not properly care for their children, being nearly four times higher during deployments.

"Although many military families manage to cope with the stress created by combat deployments, in other families this stress significantly impairs the parents' ability to care for their children appropriately," said Sandra Martin, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Child and Maternal Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-author of the study.

"The Army is very aware of these issues, and they're working hard to support families during deployments," Gibbs said. "Our study confirms that supportive services are needed for families of deployed soldiers and that those services need to be provided in a way that encourages parents who are having difficulties to take advantage of them."

Co-authors of the study also include Lawrence Kupper, Ph.D., alumni distinguished professor of biostatistics at UNC, and Ruby Johnson, a statistician at RTI.

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