Report: Child abuse in Army families under-reported in ‘broken’ system

Children hold up pinwheels before the start of a Pinwheel for Prevention parade during Military Child and Child Abuse Prevention Month last year at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va.


By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 13, 2016

Abused or neglected Army children might be “falling through the cracks” of a broken reporting system, according to a recent study sponsored by the service.

The agency responsible for investigating and remedying child abuse and neglect in Army families substantiates significantly fewer medically diagnosed abuse cases than civilian child-protective services did in cases involving Army children, raising questions about under-reporting or lack of communication between the two sectors, said the study published Saturday in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.

Between 2004 and 2007, civilian child-protective services substantiated 44 percent of medically diagnosed child-abuse cases involving children of soldiers, the study said. However, the Army’s Family Advocacy Program, tasked with investigating and treating such cases, substantiated only 20 percent during that period.

“For many years, the U.S. Army has reported rates of child abuse well below that of the civilian population,” Dr. Dave Rubin, senior author of the study and director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said in a statement. “This study calls those reports into question. Yet, the U.S. Army can only report cases they know about, and our findings suggest that they may not be aware of the majority of their cases.”

PolicyLab partnered with the Family Advocacy Program for the study.

The researchers cautioned that the data is limited by the age of the cases studied, most of which are more than a decade old.

The Department of Defense’s Family Advocacy Program, established in 1981, is tasked with preventing, reporting and treating spousal and child abuse in military families throughout the armed forces.

The Army FAP investigates 6,000 to 8,000 child-abuse reports each year, the study said. Some cases are referred to FAP by civilian health care professionals who have diagnosed abuse of children.

“The unique stressors experienced by military families related to deployments and relocations have raised concern that military families may be at increased risk for child maltreatment, particularly during times of frequent and prolonged combat-related deployments,” the study said. “Failures of reporting suspected child maltreatment to FAP could result in vulnerable children and families not receiving FAP services and contribute to undercounting of child maltreatment in the U.S. military.”

Civilian health care providers are required to report suspected child-abuse cases to a child-welfare agency, and FAP was created as an “extra layer” of support for military families, Rubin said.

“However, FAP can only provide these supports if both military and civilian health care providers either report cases directly to them or if Child Protective Services reports all cases they receive involving a military child back to FAP,” he said.

“Unfortunately, what is implied by the low number of substantiated abuse cases by U.S. Army FAP compared to known substantiation rates in the civilian population is that some children are falling through the cracks of a broken system,” Rubin said. “Military children move across states more frequently, making it particularly important that FAP know about any maltreatment since they can monitor at-risk military children wherever they are.”

It’s possible that civilian health care providers are in some cases not aware of the need to report to FAP, he said.

“Medical providers caring for a military family at non-military facilities may be unfamiliar with the military system and make reports to civilian CPS agencies via centralized hotlines and not make an additional report to FAP,” the study said.

“Our hope is that by bringing this problem to light, we can work together with our civilian partners and the Army to build a better approach to tracking child-abuse cases in the military to ensure no child in danger nor at-risk family is neglected,” Rubin said.

Twitter: @WyattWOlson

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