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Children in some military families are more likely to be mistreated when a parent goes to war, say US researchers. In a retrospective analysis of routinely collected child protection data, deployment to a combat zone was associated with a 40% increase in the rate of child mistreatment among families with at least one recorded incident (rate ratio, 1.42, 95% CI, 1.31 to 1.54). The rate of moderate or serious mistreatment went up by 60% (1.61, 1.45 to 1.77)
Most of the increase was due to mothers neglecting children aged between 2 and 12 while their husbands were on active duty in combat zones (3.88, 3.43 to 4.34). Physical abuse by mothers was also more likely during these periods (1.91, 1.33 to 2.49). Increased stress is one possible explanation, although deployment of female soldiers was not associated with a significant increase in mistreatment by civilian fathers. Deployment of either parent had no effect on the rate of sexual abuse.
These findings are consistent with other observational work suggesting that vulnerable children are at risk when soldiers go to war, say the authors. The current support networks may not be enough for families already registered for mistreating their children.