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Children's Health

Child Homicides in Military Families Drop

But rates in military families living on or near bases remain higher than the state average.

By Rose Hoban

Children in military families are at more risk for harm done to them by their parents – including physical abuse, neglect and even homicide – than kids in civilian families in North Carolina. But the good news is that rates of abuse and homicide in North Carolina all families – including military families – are dropping, and that there are new resources to help these families cope with multiple stressors.

Those are the findings of new research by Action for Children North Carolina, an advocacy organization that tracks the health of children.

Action for Children studied the issue in 2004, and found that homicide rates among  civilian families in Cumberland and Onslow counties – the locations of Ft Bragg and Camp Lejeune, two of the nation’s largest military posts – were significantly higher than the state average. And the rates of homicide by a parent or caregiver in military families were higher still.

Rates of child homicide, NC. Graphic courtesy Action for Children, NC

Graphic courtesy Action for Children, NC

Tom Vitaglione, from Action for Children, has taken another look at this issue for an updated report issued today and found child homicide rates for both military and civilian families have dropped statewide. But the rates in Cumberland and Onslow counties dropped more quickly over the past decade.

Nonetheless, the rates for those counties remain twice as high as the state’s ten-year rate of 1.9 deaths per 100,000 children under the age of 10 years old.

“We went through this decade where Army families are under more stress. Military families already have many of the risk factors for violence, and add to that, the stress of deployment.  That should contribute to all of the existing risk indicators and deployment. It’s been like a perfect storm,” Vitaglione said. “We expected it to be higher,”

Vitaglione attributes the drop in homicides to aggressive programs initiated by both the military and by social service departments in Cumberland and Onslow counties.

“The military and community agencies have gotten together and have all sorts of collaborative meetings, trading workers back and forth, and having desks in the social service department just for the military,” he said. “The level of cooperation is enormous.”

Vitaglione said military officials have created a “raft of support services” for families, especially those affected by deployment. But he said there is a lot of violence risk in military families aside from deployment, including younger families with younger children, lower educational attainment in many military households, economic stress and distance from extended families that can provide support.

Some of the programs cited by Vitaglione that help reduce violence in all North Carolina families include a statewide program to educate parents about excessive crying in newborns and home visitation programs that help new parents learn how to care for their children.

Vitaglione said it’s hard, though, to compare North Carolina to other states in the rate of child homicide. He said North Carolina’s State Center for Health Statistics gathers more data than in many states, and the state office of the medical examiner has been involved in gathering data about child deaths.

He also cited the work of the Child Fatality Task Force, a legislative study commission, that has brought focus to the issue of child homicide.

“We are so accurate in our reporting and other states are missing all of these resources, so they might be missing some of these homicides,” Vitaglione said. “It might make the situation in North Carolina look worse than it is.”

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