Study: Risk of Child Abuse, Neglect Increases after Deployment

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Army toddlers are at an increased risk of abuse and neglect during the six months after a parent's first deployment, according to a new study.

For neglect and abuse during deployment, children under two are at double the risk during a parent's second deployment as they are during the first one, according to research funded by the Pentagon and released on Friday.

The study examined the child abuse and neglect cases from 2001 to 2007 of Army children under two years old in 112,000 families where the soldiers deployed one to two times. While previous research has found an increase in abuse and neglect during deployment, this is the first to show an increase in risk after homecoming, researchers said.

"This demonstrates that elevated stress when a soldier returns home can have real and potentially devastating consequences for some military families," David Rubin, the study's senior author, said in a statement.

The research was sponsored by the Defense Department and conducted by the Policy Lab at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

For soldiers who deployed once, the highest rate of abuse and neglect came in the six months following the deployment. But abuse and neglect during a deployment was twice as likely if it was the soldier's second one, and the maltreatment in those instances was typically caused by a non-military caregiver, the report said.

"It shows that is a stressful experience for the entire family," said Christine Taylor, the study's lead author. "We need to focus on families as a whole. An entire family experiences a deployment -- it's not just the soldier. We really need to focus on the child and parent left behind and how that influences them on a family level."

Army officials said since 2007, when the data used in the study ended, the service has launched support programs to help Army families deal with the stress caused by deployment and reintegration.

"The Army implemented a number of changes to its Family Advocacy Program after the period covered in the findings," said Wayne Hall, an Army spokesman. "We are in discussion to determine the feasibility of redoing the study to determine if the trends identified in the study remain the same after the changes to the program were implemented."

The Army rate of child maltreatment is one-fourth the rate in the U.S. as a whole, Hall said.

"Studies like these help to create accountability and transparency in the system, allowing the Army to implement policies and processes to provide the best support and care to our troops," he said. "We continue to look for ways to understand what the impacts are from a decade-plus of conflict on our force and their families."

The new report comes on the heels of Pentagon data released in September which showed that child abuse and neglect cases across the military rose by almost 10 percent in 2014 to 7,676.

Since some of those cases involved more than one abuser, the actual number of victims totaled 5,838, or about a half-percent of the military's 1 million children. Of the victims, 63 percent were neglected and 25 percent were physically abused, the data showed.  

--Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com