Child Maltreatment Before and After Deployment

By Rachel Dorman, MS & Heidi Radunovich, PhD

Family violence can have a devastating impact on everyone in the home, especially children. Children are vulnerable to being exposed to or experiencing violence in homes where family violence occurs. Thomsen, Rabenhorst, McCarthy, Milner, Travis, Foster, and Copeland (2014), sought to learn more about the relationship between frequency of child maltreatment and the offending parent’s stage of deployment.

Sad girl by window
[Flickr, model: Jo by Deepjoy Tang, CC BY-ND 2.0] Retrieved on September 22, 2015
Thomsen and colleagues (2014) examined incidents of child maltreatment that occurred during an 85 month period when the offending parent was an active duty United States Air Force member who had combat related deployment during Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. The study accomplished this by merging two databases for analysis: the United States Air Force Family Advocacy System of Records and a deployment database. After merging the two databases, the study consisted of 2,287 children who had experienced maltreatment either pre-deployment or post-deployment from their USAF parent. Children were considered to be eligible for the study if they had experienced maltreatment from an active duty USAF parent, who was not married to another service member and had served in one or more combat-related deployments during OIF or OEF. The study reported 2,563 incidents of substantiated maltreatment in the 2,287 child victims. Researchers found that overall incidence of child maltreatment REDUCED after deployment. However, moderate to severe abuse was more likely after deployment, and use of alcohol further increased the likelihood of abuse. However, milder forms of child abuse were much more common prior to deployment.

Child peeking out window
[Flickr, Plastered 20 365 by Rafiq Sarlie, CC BY-ND 2.0] Retrieved on September 17, 2015
The researchers encourage future studies to examine what could account for the lower incidence of mild abuse after deployment. They hypothesize that stressors might be lower after deployment, or perhaps growth and maturity could occur over time to reduce the level of mild child maltreatment. Thomsen and colleagues (2014)

recommend that clinicians be vigilant in the identification of moderate to severe child maltreatment in post-deployment homes, because children seem to be more at risk at that time. To learn more about child maltreatment please check out our previous blogs on the topic:

Also, we have an archived webinar that explores attachment issues, neurology and interventions for children suffering from trauma.


[1] Thomsen, C., Rabenhorst, M., McCarthy, R., Milner, J., Travis, W., Foster, R., & Copeland, C. (2014). Child maltreatment before and after combat-related deployment among active-duty United States Air Force maltreating parents. Psychology of Violence, 4(2), p. 143 – 155. DOI: 10.1037/a0031766


This post was written by Rachel Dorman, M.S. and Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on TwitterYouTube, and on LinkedIn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *