Stress of War Hits Army Kids Hard

A study found that deployment of fathers is related to higher rates of neglect.

ByABC News
August 1, 2007, 10:00 AM

August 1, 2007 — -- Army wives whose husbands are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have committed markedly higher rates of child neglect and abuse than when their spouses are home, according to a study Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The Army-funded study found child neglect was almost four times greater during periods when the husbands were at war. Physical child abuse was nearly twice as high during combat deployments.

"Deployment … has been associated with increased stress among non-deployed parents, which may hamper their ability to appropriately care for their children," the study said.

Child neglect can result from inappropriate supervision, says Deborah Gibbs, the study's lead author and a senior analyst at RTI International, a North Carolina research center. It also includes failing to meet a child's basic needs, such as nourishment and sanitation. Abuse can include physical harm.

Researchers examined reports of abuse and neglect within 1,771 families of Army enlisted soldiers with nearly 3,000 children. Researchers had scant data on husbands with spouses at war; 94% of the cases of abuse and neglect involved Army wives at home.

The reports were collected by the Army's Family Advocacy Program, which works to prevent family violence. The cases occurred between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2004. The largest single group of victims was children ages 2-12.

"The evidence is pretty strong that combat-related deployments" spurred the increase, Gibbs says.

"Having been through two deployments myself, I won't deny there have been nights where I have sat in agony because I snapped at my own two children for nothing," says Tera Brockway, whose husband is stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y.

The study results are consistent with previous research showing that child neglect within the Army increased sharply after 9/11, reversing a decade-long downward trend. A May report by the University of North Carolina showed similar abuse and neglect findings for military families in Texas in 2002 and 2003.