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Timing of Army Child Abuse Depends on Soldier Parent's Gender: Report

Child abuse is a problem – even among military families. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Steve White)
Child abuse is a problem – even among military families. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Steve White)

When Army children are most at risk for child abuse and neglect depends on the gender of their soldier parent, according to new research released this week.

Children of female soldiers are most at risk for maltreatment from someone in their household in the months leading up to deployment, while those whose soldier parent is male are most at risk in the six months following deployment, researchers found.

That finding could help military officials better understand when families are under the most stress -- and how to avoid family trauma before and after a deployment.

"That was something that we really weren't expecting, and we wanted to get that out there," said Doug Strane, the study's lead author. "This finding allows [the Army] to align their resources so families are getting the help when they need it."

The report, sponsored by the Defense Department and conducted by the PolicyLab at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, was published in the Military Medicine research journal.

It is the last in a series of PolicyLab reports examining child maltreatment cases among 67,700 soldier parents who were deployed one to two times between 2001 and 2007, and their 97,000 young children.

Researchers noted the data on maltreatment cases do not identify who committed the crime, but instead simply identify that a parent in the household is a soldier.

A 2015 report on the data found that Army toddlers are at an increased risk of abuse and neglect in the six months following a deployment, but did not break out cases by the parent's gender.

A 2016 report found that only 20 percent of Army abuse and neglect cases identified by off-base officials were flagged for follow-up by the Army's Family Advocacy Program.

The new report substantiates the 2015 findings that children are at the highest risk for maltreatment after a deployment, PolicyLab officials said, while also identifying specific timing trends among male and female soldier families.

"What we wanted to do with this study was ... be sure that what we think we're seeing is what we're actually seeing," Strane said.

Researchers again found that despite the parent-gender differences, the majority of maltreatment cases occur in the six months following deployment, likely because the majority of soldier parents are male.

"What we get out of doing this study is that we found that this period of high risk is sort of universally seen across these families," he said.

"Even after you control for rank, education level, age or number of children in the family -- even after that -- we still saw this high-risk period following the soldiers' deployment," Strane said.

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