Deployments and Child Deaths
Rates of military child deaths linked to abuse and neglect have more than doubled since 2003 and outpace national civilian averages for the first time, according to a Military Times investigation.
The investigation, which was based on the publication's review of electronic records and U.S. Defense Department's Family Advocacy Program reports, found that deaths of military- dependent children related to abuse and neglect have risen steadily from 14 in 2003 to 29 in 2010, peaking in 2008 with 36 child deaths.
According to the publication, in many cases, there were warning signs that the family was struggling. About one in five deaths in the past decade involved a child or family that was previously reported to the military's family advocacy system for either child or domestic abuse. Head trauma from shaken baby syndrome was a common cause of death for young children.
Outside experts say a rise in child abuse fatality rates would not come as a surprise, noting that increased family stress has been linked to the frequent war deployments of the past decade. Previously, rates of military child deaths tied to abuse and neglect were far lower than the civilian population.
"That shifted once large-scale deployments started," said researcher Deborah Gibbs, who has studied child abuse in the military. "These are large and meaningful differences that are very clearly tied to specific events of the large-scale deployments."
The active-duty military community has about 1.4 million children, according to Tricare, the health care program serving active-duty service members, National Guard and Reserve members, retirees, families and survivors worldwide.
Experts say the military is a tightly-knit community that may be better at identifying troubled homes where children are in danger. However, the challenge is that military bases and communities can be isolated from local civilian childprotective agencies.
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