By Lois Matteis
The Circle of Friends for American Veterans (COFAV) seeks to draw attention to millions of children who are born into military families and whose parent bravely put their lives on the line for this country. Being raised as a military dependent brings unique challenges compared to those never involved in the military.
These children often attend multiple schools across several countries; deal with higher stress levels due to a parents’ deployments to violent countries; and must adjust to life in a new area, often several times during critical development years. Their family life, education, friendships, and involvement in school activities is often at risk.
In 2017, there were 1.2 million children of active duty members worldwide, and on average, a military family will move 3 times more than their civilian counterparts. Furthermore, one third of military school-aged children show psychological behaviors such as being anxious, worrying often, and crying frequently.
People often mention the trials, tribulations, and future stresses awaiting service members who are deploying to a combat zone, but rarely do we address how this stress translates to children during their educational and mental development. It is a disservice to the military community to not take care of their family and children while they are away protecting ours.
Understanding the emotions and hardships that service members’ children face can improve how the public and government provide the mental and educational services needed for children who have a deployed parent. Children of deployed military parents did not choose their fate, but the issues must be addressed. COFAV strongly advocates for our U.S. Congress to stand up and address these points of contention.
The Pediatric Symptom Checklist
When a spouse is deployed, some stress factors the family at home face are raising their children alone, financial hardship, childcare costs, and psychological stress involving the welfare of the deployed family member. The combination of a worried child with no support system and a deployed parent can lead to significant problems for the child, potentially lasting their entire life.
This issue is a key factor for school-aged children who are more likely to exhibit emotional, behavioral, and sleep problems when using the Pediatric Symptom Checklist. These problems are likely to continue into the child’s adult life, even after a deployed parent returns home.
The Journal of Development & Behavioral Pediatrics conducted a study and found that one-third of families who experienced deployment were at “high-risk” for rapid declines of psychological and developmental well-being. These issues often last even after service members leave the military. Creating solutions now would provide a world of support for both military parents and their children both during and after military service.
Those in Their “Tragic Teens” Face Even More Dilemmas
Teenagers exhibit extreme psychological risk factors when a parent is deployed. A report in the Health Behavior News Service concluded that 8th grade girls of military parents experienced more idealizations of suicide compared to their civilian counterparts. The study also found similar idealizations of suicide in 10thand 12th grade boys.
These children are also more likely to engage in risky behaviors associated with depression. Of boys from military families, 33% admitted to binge drinking while 37% reported drug use, about a 10% higher rate than their civilian counterparts.
More Solutions are Needed
Community-based approaches geared toward children with deployed parents could provide much needed support and care to military families and their children. Because military families move often, they rarely do not have support systems in place. This problem can multiply swiftly when one member of the family is deployed, and they can be very lonely until an adequate support system is created.
The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is even more accurate when it comes to military families with children. Advocacy is an essential part of protecting these children because they cannot speak for themselves regarding these issues. COFAV wants to educate the public that while it is up to individuals and communities to stand up and be the voice for this defenseless group, there needs to be much more coordination from lawmakers, support groups, and the Veterans’ Administration.
PTSD and deployments put mental stress on service members, and this can translate to enormous issues for military families. More solutions are needed to address how family members can cope with their loved ones’ deployment, as well as their return with potentially debilitating physical and/or mental diseases. For the sake of our nation’s heroes and their children, addressing these issues could create avenues for military members and their families to receive vital assistance.
The Circle of Friends for American Veterans is a national nonprofit organization that fulfills its mission by educating the public and Congress about the needs and solutions for American Veterans, with an emphasis on those left behind such as homeless veterans. By molding public opinion, COFAV helps shape public policy. The forerunner of the organization was established in 1993. During its history, it helped sponsor 196 forums and receptions around the country, many of which highlighted local transitional facilities. Over 100 members of Congress were hosted and spoke at those events.