Confirmed incidents of child abuse and neglect among Army families increase significantly 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 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 while enlisted soldiers were at home and while they were deployed for combat operations between late 2001 and the end of 2004.
The study, funded by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, shows 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, 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."
The greatest increase in the rate of child abuse and neglect occurred when soldier-husbands deployed, leaving mothers at home to care for the children. In these cases, the rate of physical abuse nearly doubled, and the rate of neglect, in which parents do not properly care for their children, was nearly four times higher.
"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 study co-author Sandra Martin, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Child and Maternal Health at UNC's School of Public Health.
"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."
This study appears in the Aug. 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Co-authors include Lawrence Kupper, Ph.D., Alumni Distinguished Professor of Biostatistics in UNC's School of Public Health, and Ruby Johnson, a statistician at RTI International.
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