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December 15, 2016

CHOP study: Child abuse in Army families could be going under-reported

A study from researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has found that child abuse in the families of U.S. Army servicemen and servicewomen could be significantly under-reported.

About 20 percent of child abuse and neglect cases of Army dependent children between 2004-2007 were found to be substantiated reports with the Army's Family Advocacy Program (FAP). That's about half the rate in cases reported to civilian Child Protective Services (44 percent), the researchers said.

"For many years, the U.S. Army has reported rates of child abuse well below that of the civilian population. This study calls those reports into question," said Dr. Dave Rubin, director of the PolicyLab at CHOP. "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."

Rubin said that the large discrepancy in Army cases and civilian cases suggests that Army children may be "falling through the cracks of a broken system."

The researchers noted that because health care providers are located off of Army bases, they might not know to report cases to FAP because there is no requirement or way for them to do so. Additionally, providers may report cases to civilian agencies, but that information is often not communicated back to FAP.

A report last year in The Washington Post found that child abuse cases in military families had reached an all-time high, with 7,676 cases of child abuse or neglect in fiscal year 2014, a 10 percent increase from the year before.

The Post analysis of federal data found there was a dip in confirmed cases from 2004-2008, a period that coincides with the timeframe in the CHOP study about the noticeably low numbers of confirmed cases.

Defense officials quoted in the report expressed concerns about how multiple deployments and combat stress could impact military families.

The CHOP researchers said they hoped to work with civilian partners and Army officials to try and create a better approach to tracking child abuse.