At-War Soldiers' Kids Suffer at Home
Child Neglect, Abuse: One Cost of Long, Repeated Military Deployments
WebMD News Archive
Tip of Military Child Neglect/Abuse Iceberg?
Gibbs and colleagues studied reported cases of child maltreatment in 1,771
families of enlisted U.S. Army soldiers deployed at least once between
September 2001 and December 2004. During these deployments, more than 80% of
the cases of maltreatment were due to child neglect. Over two-thirds of these
cases were reported as moderate or severe.
"An example of a mild child neglect case would be the parent's lapse in
supervision of a child that did not meet the army's criteria for leaving
children alone but which did not result in any harm and was not blatantly
inappropriate -- such as leaving an 8-year-old home for a short period of
time," Gibbs says. "A severe case of child neglect would be more along
the lines of a parent not providing supervision to a young child for an
extended period of time, not meeting the child's basic needs for food, or not
maintaining a livable household."
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."