Military Child Maltreatment, Deployment, and Future Research

By Rachel Dorman, M.S. & Kacy Mixon, PhD, LMFT

Child in military outfit
[Flickr, Texas Military Forces honors child with rare disorder at honorary enlistment ceremony by Texas Military Forces, CC BY-ND 2.0] Retrieved on September 23, 2015
Child maltreatment has been a hot topic in research literature related to military families. It is well known that child maltreatment negatively impacts not only children’s physical and mental development but also their emotional health and academic achievement. Research in the 1970s and 1990s showed that child maltreatment rates in military families were similar and sometimes even lower when compared to civilian families, with the exception of the rate of emotional abuse doubling in the 1990s [1]. However, rates of military child maltreatment have been shown to increase after the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2002. Rates in civilian families during this time, conversely, remained unchanged [1].

 Impact of Deployment on Child Maltreatment:

Boy covering head alone on the street
[Flickr, Depressed Boy by Tjook, CC BY-ND 2.0] Retrieved on September 23, 2015
It is no secret that deployment can be a common cause of stress in military families. A current review of research looking at military families revealed that child maltreatment rates may be influenced by the stressful experiences military parents face during deployment and reintegration from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars [1]. Furthermore, researchers think the increase in maltreatment of military children may be a result of prolonged and repeat deployment and other stressors that are unique to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Additional Research Areas to Consider:

In addition to studying child maltreatment, advocates of military family research suggest other areas that require deeper understanding. For instance, in their article, The Children of Military Service Members: Challenges, Supports , and the Future Educational Research, De Pedro, Astor, Benbenishty, Estrada, Smith, and Esqueda call for more research on contextual factors influencing military-specific risks for child maltreatment (e.g. reintegration and different outcomes for different branches of military), family and community supports (e.g. how the general public view the military and military families and how family members respond to returning disabled military members), and the social emotional and psychological development of military children.

References:

[1] De Pedro, K., Astor, R., Benbenishty, R., Estrada, J., Smith, G., & Esqueda, M. (2011). The children of military service members: Challenges, supports, and future educational research. Review of Education Research, 81(4), 566-618.

 

This post was written by Rachel Dorman, M.S. and Kacy Mixon, PhD, LMFT.  Both are members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.

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