Impact of parents' wartime military deployment and injury on young children's safety and mental health

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015 Apr;54(4):294-301. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2014.12.017. Epub 2015 Feb 2.


Objective: Children are at risk for adverse outcomes during parental military deployments. We aim to determine the impact of parental deployment and combat injury on young children's postdeployment mental health, injuries, and maltreatment.

Method: This is a population-based, retrospective cohort study of young children of active duty military parents during fiscal years (FY) 2006 to 2007, a high deployment period. A total of 487,460 children, 3 to 8 years of age, who received Military Health System care, were included. The relative rates of mental health, injury, and child maltreatment visits of children whose parents deployed and children of combat-injured parents were compared to children unexposed to parental deployment.

Results: Of the included children, 58,479 (12%) had a parent deploy, and 5,405 (1%) had a parent injured during deployment. Relative to children whose parents did not deploy, children of deployed and combat-injured parents, respectively, had additional visits for mental health diagnoses (incidence rate ratio [IRR] = 1.09 [95% CI = 1.02-1.17], IRR = 1.67 [95% CI = 1.47-1.89]), injuries (IRR = 1.07 [95% CI = 1.04-1.09], IRR = 1.24 [95% CI = 1.17-1.32]), and child maltreatment (IRR = 1.21 [95% CI = 1.11-1.32], IRR 2.30 = [95% CI 2.02-2.61]) postdeployment.

Conclusion: Young children of deployed and combat-injured military parents have more postdeployment visits for mental health, injuries, and child maltreatment. Mental health problems, injuries, and maltreatment after a parent's return from deployment are amplified in children of combat-injured parents. Increased preventive and intervention services are needed for young children as parents return from deployments. Child health and mental health providers are crucial to effective identification of these at-risk children to ensure effective care provision.

Keywords: child maltreatment; child mental health; military deployment; parental injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child Health*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Military Family / psychology*
  • Parents / psychology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • United States
  • Warfare