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Stress of Deployment Increases Risk of Child Abuse, Neglect in Military Families, UNC Study Shows

Rates of abuse and neglect of young children in military families in Texas has doubled since October 2002, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study shows, raising concerns about the impact of deployment on military personnel and their families across the country.

The study, published in the May 15, 2007 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, was designed by UNC School of Public Health researchers to measure the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on military and non-military families. The researchers chose to study Texas because of the large military population there and the availability of data.

Researchers found that prior to October 2002, rate of abuse and neglect called maltreatment was slightly higher among non-military families compared to military families. However, after the U.S. started sending larger numbers of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003, rates of abuse and neglect in military families far outpaced the rates among non-military families. Military files indicate more troops were deployed and fewer returned home in 2003.

In addition, the rate of occurrence of substantiated maltreatment in military families was twice as high in the period after October 2002 compared with the period prior to that date. During the same period, the rate of substantiated child abuse and neglect was relatively stable for non-military families, said Danielle Rentz, Ph.D., lead author of the study, which was part of her doctoral dissertation at the UNC School of Public Health.

Among soldiers with at least one dependent, for every one percent increase in the number of active duty soldiers departing or returning, we saw an approximately 30 percent increase in the rate of substantiated maltreatment cases, Rentz said. These findings indicate to us that both departures to and returns from operational deployment impose stresses on military families and likely increase the rate of child maltreatment.


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