At-War Soldiers' Kids Suffer at Home
Child Neglect, Abuse: One Cost of Long, Repeated Military Deployments
Tip of Military Child Neglect/Abuse Iceberg? continued...
The study looked only at families with reported episodes of child
maltreatment. Four times as many children likely are affected, as only about
25% of cases of child neglect or abuse actually is reported, says John
Fairbank, PhD, co-director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress,
sponsored by the U.S. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services
"This could be the tip of an iceberg," Fairbank tells WebMD.
"There are probably many more Army families out there suffering. And other
members of the armed forces, such as the Army Reserve and National Guard, are
much more isolated than are those on military bases. ... This really is a
problem we need to be addressing thoughtfully and carefully and
The Army's Johnson disagrees with the tip-of-the-iceberg analogy, although
she says maltreatment of children in military families has become "much
more common than it had been before." And Johnson says the findings of the
Gibbs study remain relevant today.
"I don't think a snapshot taken today would be different from the
2001-2004 period in the study. We would see same level of neglect," she
says. "This is something we were able to detect in our own research
analyses. It has highlighted the impact of continuous deployment on our
soldiers and our families."
Help for Military Families
The problem of child maltreatment is solved not by punishing families but by
helping them, says child-protection expert Lane.
"There should be an assessment of the family: Are there risks in
addition to the fact the parent is deployed? Is it just increased stress -- or
could there be lack of social support? Could there be substance use or abuse?
Could it be financial?" Lane says. "You work with the family to find
out what kind of support the family needs to avoid future neglect -- and give
parents better skills so the child is safe."
The U.S. Army is doing just that, Johnson says.
"The question we are addressing is, do we have a way of picking up on
these families at risk and following them as the baby develops?" Johnson
says. "We have a 24/7 help line families can call to ask for in-depth
counseling support. We have new-parent support programs that are especially
helpful with the areas that generate most concern, such as feeding. We have a
special-emphasis effort on 'do not shake babies.' And then we have a normal
range of parenting classes."
Sometimes, however, a family's problems are deeper than simple lack of
support or know-how.
"The deeper problem might be something more serious. For example, a
parent may have depression that needs to be treated, in which case you have to
make a referral to a mental health specialist," Lane says.