08 December 2009

New Research Examines Military Children’s Experience When Their Parents Deploy

(BUSINESS WIRE)--In the largest study to date looking at the emotional well-being of military children, there is now scientific confirmation to many anecdotal reports of the impact of a parent’s deployment on the well-being of a child. The results, published today in the journal Pediatrics, are the first findings of a large-scale, cross-Service and cross-component research study on military children.

The National Military Family Association commissioned the RAND Corporation to follow military children for 12 months, summer 2008 through summer 2009, surveying them and their parent or caregiver on three occasions to answer two key questions: how are school-age military children faring and what types of issues do military children face related to deployment? The baseline findings released today set the stage for results from the follow-up surveys to be reported in subsequent studies.

Study results are consistent across Service branches:

* As the months of parental deployment increased so did the child’s challenges. The total number of months away mattered more than the number of deployments.
* Older children experienced more difficulties during deployment.
* There is a direct correlation between the mental health of the caregiver and the well-being of the child.
* Girls experienced more difficulty during reintegration, the period of months readjusting after the service member’s homecoming.
* About one-third of the children reported symptoms of anxiety, which is somewhat higher than the percentage reported in other studies of children.

“These findings back up what we have been hearing from parents about the impacts of parental deployments on children,” said National Military Family Association Executive Director Joyce Raezer. “While military families are determined to stay strong and healthy, our Nation has been at war for nearly eight years now. We owe it to military families to better understand and address the challenges they are facing now, and may be facing later. Commissioning this research is the first step in doing that.”

Families with a child between the ages of 11 and 17 who applied to the National Military Family Association’s 2008 Operation Purple® Summer Camp program were invited to participate in the survey. Among the 1,507 parent and child sets surveyed (3,014 total participants), 57 percent of the children were from Army families, 20 percent had a parent in the Air Force, 17 percent were Navy families, and the remainder had parents in the Marine Corps or Coast Guard. About 63 percent of the parents were in the active component, with the rest in the National Guard or Reserve.

The study found no significant differences among children based on the Service branch of the parent or whether they were a part of the active or reserve component of the military. Ninety-five percent of children had experienced at least one parental deployment in the three years prior to the study, and nearly 40 percent were going through a deployment at the time of the interview. The study’s participation rate was 97% indicating the importance families place on the need for this research.

What does this mean for military families? This study presents clear evidence that many families are still experiencing stress. There are many good programs from both military and private organizations that support military children and military families; however, quality and outreach are inconsistent, some programs are redundant, and needs remain to be filled. Current programs were created with the best information available at the time. Now that new research-based information is available, the National Military Family Association is calling on all organizations — including the Department of Defense — to use these findings to assess their current offerings.

The Association wants to see best practices replicated and greater targeted support when and where most needed. Because the total months of separation matters to children’s well-being, support programs must continue to be available for families facing their second, third, and fourth deployments. These families need support programs and their community as much as, or more than, those saying goodbye for the first time.

What is next? The National Military Family Association is gathering key nonprofit, military, corporate, education, community, faith-based, and research leaders to form an expert task force and lead a national conversation on the needs of military children and families. In May 2010, the task force will present a plan to address both the immediate and long-term research implications. The task force working groups will focus on the following goals: building resiliency in youth, addressing the needs of girls, engaging communities to support military families, investing in military spouses, and improving the mental health of caregivers and kids.

“Our 40 years of service have made us a trusted resource for families and the Nation’s leaders and we are uniquely qualified to lead the search for solutions, focused on building on best practices and creating partnerships,” Raezer added.

Families and caring adults in military kids’ lives can visit, www.MilitaryFamily.org, for a list of ways to support military families or download the “10 Things Military Teens Want You to Know” toolkit. Also, a link to a downloadable copy of the complete Pediatrics article about the study can be found at www.MilitaryFamily.org/study.

The research project was made possible through grants to the National Military Family Association from the Robertson Foundation, the Sierra Club and Sierra Club Foundation.

The study was jointly conducted by RAND Health, a division of the nonprofit RAND Corporation, and the RAND National Security Research Division.

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