At-War Soldiers' Kids Suffer at Home
Child Neglect, Abuse: One Cost of Long, Repeated Military Deployments
July 31, 2007 - There's a hidden cost to today's long military deployments
-- a price paid by soldiers' children.
That cost: Children in single-mother military households are much more
likely to suffer neglect and abuse during deployments.
Research Triangle Institute researcher Deborah A. Gibbs, MSPH, and
colleagues report the findings in the Aug. 1 issue of The Journal of the
American Medical Association.
"The overall rate of child maltreatment is 42% higher during soldier
deployment than during other times. The increase occurred both for mild and for
moderate-to-severe maltreatment," Gibbs tells WebMD. "Not surprisingly,
this results from much higher rates of maltreatment by female civilian parents,
because they are the ones left at home most often."
During deployments, the children of left-at-home moms were four times more
likely to suffer neglect and nearly twice as likely to suffer physical
"The surprising finding was that the effect of deployment was so
consistent," Gibbs says. "Just about any way we could divide the
population, we found increased rates of child maltreatment during deployment.
We looked at pay grade, rank, single or multiple deployments, whether the
family lives on or off post -- all showed increases."
This isn't happening because the left-at-home moms are terrible mothers --
it's happening because they are mothers stressed to the breaking point, says
Wendy Lane, MD, MPH, chairwoman of the child protection team at the University
of Maryland School of Medicine.
"The parents who do this are not bad people. This is the case in most
situations of abuse and neglect," Lane tells WebMD. "People want to do
the right things for their kids, but often there are stressors that keep them
from doing what they want to do."
The main stressor is the "impact of continuous deployment on our
soldiers and families," says Delores Johnson, director of family programs
for the U.S. Army's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.
"Because of the continuous deployment of troops, this is much more
common than it had been before," Johnson tells WebMD. "We know that
neglect tends to increase during deployments, although we have not seen these
high rates before. This seems to be coming from families dealing with
back-to-back and extended deployments. Mothers are functioning very much alone
and dealing with schedules and new babies and all the demands that go with
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."