Headline 6: Incidents of child abuse and neglect skyrocket among U.S. military families when the spouse is deployed to war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. A Pentagon-funded study determined that women left behind to care for the children alone represent the greatest problem.
Researchers compared the number of incidents of child maltreatment during times when enlisted soldiers were at home and while they were deployed on a combat mission.
The figures reflected an overall 42% increase in child abuse and neglect cases during these tours of duty.
The data reflects that the greatest effect of deployment was on the civilian wives who were left behind.
Further analysis of this group revealed that the rate of child neglect—defined as not providing adequate care to the child—increased by almost 4 times amongst these women. The rate of physical child abuse almost doubled, while rates of emotional abuse and sexual abuse remained the same.
Canada does not have any similar data for Canadian military families. What Canada does have are programs to help spouses and their children cope with the difficulties associated with the separation and fears that deployment brings. According to experts, these programs have been beefed up and intensified since the mission in Afghanistan began.
It's no great surprise that neglect rates would increase during such difficult and stressful times; these women are in many cases depressed and lacking in any kind of meaningful support. Don't get me wrong, I'm not condoning child abuse or making excuses for any form it takes. What I am saying is that the U.S. military must be proactive rather than reactive in their approach.
If the military expects to send enlisted soldiers to combat zones, then they are obligated to the families of these enlisted men (and women) to provide them with support services. It makes perfect sense for the government to ensure that the people deployed are in a position to focus on the mission at hand rather than worrying that their families are coping poorly back home.
The path for families to remain strong and organized while a spouse is on a tour of duty is through programs that deal with mental health, stress and administration. These programs must give military families access to counseling, support groups for the parent left at home, and respite care so that parents can get short breaks from the children.
The men of these families are sent away from their families to fight for their country. In return, the government owes it to these brave men to fight for the unity, safety and well-being of their families.
Headline 6 originally posted August 6, 2007
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