Threats of War and Child Maltreatment

Summary and Comment |
June 25, 2007

Threats of War and Child Maltreatment

  1. Joel Yager, MD

Military deployment is associated with substantially increased rates of child abuse and neglect.

  1. Joel Yager, MD

Risk factors for child maltreatment are not as prevalent in military families as in nonmilitary families. For example, military families receive healthcare and partially funded housing, have at least one salaried parent, and are subject to social and vocational pressures against severe drug or alcohol problems. To learn more, investigators examined child maltreatment rates in military and nonmilitary families in Texas by using a large national database derived from reports made by state child protective service agencies from January 2000 through June 2003. This time span started before the September 11 terror attacks and continued as military deployments increased to Afghanistan and, later, Iraq.

Before the attacks, rates of substantiated child maltreatment were lower in military than nonmilitary families. To study the effects of deployment stress, the researchers looked for a change in the rates after October 2002, the 1-year anniversary of the attacks. In military families, maltreatment rates doubled after that date, becoming higher than nonmilitary families’ rates, which were essentially unchanged. The higher rates of child maltreatment were associated with increases both in deployments and in returns from deployment in Texas.


Although this study examined state-level rates rather than individual family-level events, the results imply that the predictable family stressors associated with military deployment contribute substantially to child maltreatment. Only very severe cases are reported to child protective services; we can thus assume that many more instances of lesser severity occur. We need family-level studies to ascertain the individuals at greatest risk and advocacy for preventive supports for distressed families. Clinicians working with military families should be aware that these major family transitions might provoke child mistreatment and other family violence.


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