Between 2001 and 2011, over 2.2 million American service members were deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Although it is not unusual for military families to experience some stress when a loved one is deployed, studies have found that children with a deployed parent are at risk for higher levels anxiety, poorer academic performance, and drug and/or alcohol use than their peers. Now, research from the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research at the University of San Diego, in partnership with Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, indicates that children of returning wounded service members face additional challenges that may impact their development.
Through extensive interviews with wounded servicemen and women and their families, researchers identified several themes:
- Invisible wounds. Children with parents diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder along with their visible wounds reported increased anger and an overall lack of understanding of the changes in their parent. Youth tended to adapt quicker to tangible wounds and the special care they required.
- Losing both parents. Attention was diverted from children in the family to the newly returned wounded parent, with older children taking on the adult role of providing emotional support and care to siblings and/or the non-injured parent.
- Too much or too little information. Lack of communication with children around the reality of the returning parent’s injuries caused distress. For adults, ill-timed “information dumps” on resources/programs that occurred too early in the reunification process were overwhelming and often not helpful.
- Isolation. Families transitioning from the military to a civilian community with a seriously wounded family member reported feeling isolated, cut off from those who might best understand their experience.
To better meet these needs, the study authors recommend the development or expansion of programs that help families build long term resiliency, as well as youth mentoring and peer-to-peer social support for children.
If you are interested in reading more about the challenges faced by wounded service members and their families, RAND has an exceptional series of reports and presentations from their Military Caregiver Study available at their website.
Report Citation: Schumann, M.J., Nash Cameron, E., Deitrick, L., Reed, G., and Doroliat, D. (2014). Study on Children of Seriously Wounded Service Members. San Diego, CA: Caster Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research, University of San Diego.