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War deployment raises child-abuse risk, study says

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2007

CHICAGO (AP) — Children in some Army families are vulnerable to abuse and neglect by their mothers when their fathers are away at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a large Pentagon-funded study finds.

Mothers were three times more likely to have a substantiated report of child mistreatment when their soldier husbands were deployed than when the fathers were home, according to the research. Mothers at home were nearly four times as likely to neglect their children and nearly twice as likely to physically abuse them during deployment periods.

"She leaves the young child alone in the apartment, doesn't get the child off to school in the morning, doesn't keep the house in a livable condition," said lead author Deborah Gibbs of the nonprofit RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., describing typical scenarios.

Army officials said the study confirms what they've seen at large military bases for nearly two years, overwhelmed and depressed mothers neglecting their children.

"This is another recognition of the stress that families are experiencing with multiple deployments, and that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone," said Rene Robichaux, social work programs manager for the U.S. Army Medical Command.

The Army recently announced it will hire more than 1,000 additional "family readiness support assistants" to help families of deployed active-duty, Army Reserve and National Guard units. The Army also recently added $8 million to its respite child-care program and increased home visits to parents of young children at 13 bases with the highest rates of neglect, said Delores Johnson, the Army's director of family programs.

The study appears in today's Journal of the American Medical Association. Army staff reviewed the manuscript before its submission to the medical journal.

The researchers analyzed information from two large Army databases from 2001 through 2004. Since then, the pace of deployments has increased, making the findings even more important, Miss Gibbs said.

Only families with at least one report of child mistreatment were part of the analysis, so the findings apply only to families with some underlying risk.

The researchers found reports of abuse and neglect for nearly 3,000 individual children. The mistreatment included neglect, abandonment, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.

Women accounted for about nine out of 10 incidents by civilian parents during deployments. For fathers at home while their soldier wives were at war, the effect of deployment on the likelihood of abuse or neglect was insignificant, suggesting men may be more likely to get help from extended family or other resources, Miss Gibbs said.

Overall, the study of almost 1,800 Army families worldwide found that reports of child abuse and neglect were 42 percent higher during times when the soldier-parent, regardless of sex, was deployed.