Two Million Children of Active Military and Veterans at Risk, According to New Princeton-Brookings Journal

We need to get so far in front of this.  The trend here is familial trauma created by deployment, return, PTSD and innocent victims all around.

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Two Million Children of Active Military and Veterans at Risk, According to New Princeton-Brookings Journal

Social and Health Problems Frequent in those with Parents Serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; Better Detection, Prevention, Treatment Needed

 There are about 2 million children of military families who are serving or have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those children experience significantly more problems in school, with family, and among peers than do children the same age in the general US population, according to a policy brief published today in the new issue of the Princeton-Brookings The Future of Children journal.  As a result, there is a need to develop new and test existing prevention and treatment programs to help give these families, who are serving their country, the support they need.

 Although research on the effects of deployment on families is still in its infancy, it already shows that deployment leads to distress and mental health problems of parents and that these parental problems are in turn associated with elevated rates of similar social-emotional problems in their children. In spite of the fact that military families show remarkable resilience given the stress most of them face, Journal policy brief authors Colonel Stephen J. Cozza (U.S. Army, Retired), Brookings Senior Fellow Ron Haskins, and Richard M. Lerner of Tufts University argue that the sacrifices place “a special obligation on the nation to help these distressed families and children.”

 In “Keeping the Promise: Maintaining the Health of Military and Veteran Families and Children,” the authors point to research showing that combat deployment is associated with higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems in children.  In addition, longer deployments are associated with more problems.  Studies also find a strong relationship between the mental health of parents or caretaker and the healthy adaptation of their children to deployment stress. Problems experienced by deployed parents also impact their stateside spouses. One study found, for example, that the civilian wives of service members were four times as likely to neglect their children during their husband’s deployment than when he was home, and nearly twice as likely to physically abuse them.  Deployment may contribute to an elevated propensity for child neglect in a number of ways, especially by temporarily creating the equivalent of a single-parent family, a known risk factor for child neglect.

 “These research findings justify concern and must lead to action by the public, by policymakers, and by senior military and other government officials,” Cozza, Haskins and Lerner write.  They propose a shared national agenda to expand and rigorously test the existing system of treatment and preventive services for military children and families:

 

  • Base programs for military children on sound evidence.  Military children and families are owed the best programs that science and practice can design and deliver; therefore, we need to learn the principles of best practice. Many current programs for military children were rolled out quickly, at a time of pressing need, but few are based on scientific evidence of what works, and even fewer have been rigorously evaluated for their effectiveness.

 

  • Focus programs for military children on resilience. Although we should certainly try to reduce the risks that military children face, the best way to help these children is to build on the strengths that they, their families, and their communities already possess.

 

  • Break down barriers among services for military children. Military family status, for example, could be routinely flagged in children’s health and educational records, so that awareness of their needs follows them wherever they go.

 

  • Be ready for the future. If we begin to prepare now, then the next time the US engages in armed conflict, we can more quickly and efficiently provide military children and families the kinds of support they need and deserve.

 

“It is difficult to put a price tag on our recommendations for developing and testing effective prevention and treatment programs, but it will likely be in the tens of millions of dollars,” they write.  “Given the dramatic sacrifices that military families have made to defend the nation, policy makers and taxpayers should honor our promise to these families with the funds necessary to restore and sustain them. To do less would disrespect their service and discredit the nation’s commitment to those who serve in harm’s way,” they conclude.

 Papers in the latest volume, Military and Children and Families (Volume 23 Number 2 Fall 2013) are:

 

The Future of Children is a collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families. 

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