Identifying Opportunities to Address Child Abuse and Neglect in U.S. Army Families

Statement of Problem

Prior research demonstrates that rates of child abuse in military families rise and fall along with deployment cycles, and that the investigation of child abuse operates differently for military and civilian families. The Department of Defense created an extra layer of support for children in military families – recognizing their unique needs related to the stress of deployment and frequent moves around the country – by establishing its own child and family services program in 1981, the Family Advocacy Program (FAP). However, for the Department of Defense to appropriately deploy resources to FAP to help military families in need, we need a better understanding of risk factors that relate to instances of abuse including the impact of deployment, the specific personnel at greatest risk and any barriers to comprehensive reporting of instances of abuse and neglect to FAP. 

In order to fully understand instances of child abuse in the U.S. Army and how they are reported, this project has undertaken the largest linkage of U.S. Army deployment and health care databases to date. We hope to fully uncover both the magnitude of child-abuse related injuries to children of U.S. Army soldiers and to identify for the Army the “high-risk” periods and soldiers upon whom to focus prevention efforts and family services. This project uses both a quantitative and qualitative approach to better appreciate the challenges faced by military families, as well as potential strategies that will support them and thereby reduce the risk for intrafamilial violence that may be associated with deployment.

To date, two studies have been published utilizing this data. The first, published in November 2015, found that children two-years-old and younger of U.S. Army soldiers deployed once may be at increased risk for abuse and neglect during the six months immediately following a parent’s return. Furthermore, for many children of soldiers deployed twice, that risk may rise during the second deployment.

The second study, published in December 2016, uncovered that only 20 percent of medically diagnosed child abuse and neglect cases in U.S. Army dependent children between 2004 and 2007 were found to have a substantiated report with Army FAP. This rate is less than half of the rate (44 percent) of medically diagnosed child abuse cases substantiated by civilian Child Protective Services, and raises questions about consistent reports from the Army that rates of child abuse are lower among their families than in the civilian population. Ultimately, the study’s finding suggests the military has an incomplete picture of child abuse and neglect cases among Army families. 

The team is currently working to update and expand on prior findings. Our future work will examine how family characteristics change the risk of abuse in Army families, as well as whether changes in Army policy have improved the practice of reporting medically diagnosed child maltreatment to FAP in recent years.

The goal of this study is to work with the U.S. Army leadership to develop streamlined recommendations of how to prevent child maltreatment, as well as how to effectively provide resources to families when it does occur. The team meets regularly with leadership within the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command as well as a growing list of stakeholders throughout the U.S. Army.

Suggested Citation

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PolicyLab. Identifying Opportunities to Address Child Abuse and Neglect in U.S. Army Families [Online]. Available at:[Accessed: plug in date accessed here].