Study Highlights Challenges Faced by Children of Wounded Service Members

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 familiesresearchers 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.

A Closer Look at Trends in Youth Obesity

After a period of aggressive growth, obesity rates among American youth have stabilized somewhat in the last decade. Unfortunately, this good news may distract from the trend data indicating that obesity remains a cause for concern among certain sub-groups of youth.

In the paper, Increasing socioeconomic disparities in adolescent obesity, authors Carl B. Frederick, Kaisa Snellman, and Robert D. Putnam discuss the idea of income level as a kind of dividing line in recent obesity trends. In the early 2000’s, obesity rates declined for youth in higher socioeconomic categories, while slowing down or increasing among lower-income groups.  The authors found that youth with college-educated parents also experienced a decline in obesity. Due to the national sample limitations, the interaction of race+class was not tested.

Examining weight management as an equation of calories taken in versus calories expended, these findings indicate that lower income youth and/or youth with parents who had a high school education consumed more calories than their higher income peers and reported less recreational activity or exercise.  Issues of transportation to markets that carry a wide variety of items including produce, budget limits and the lure of easy to prepare, tasty (but processed) foods all likely play a role in consumption habits, but that is only half of the equation.  The authors note that in 2003, 86.6 percent of adolescent children with college-educated parents reported playing a sport or exercising for at least 20 minutes during the past 7 days compared to 79.8 percent of youth with high-school educated parents.  In 2010, the gap in exercise/recreation time increased to 91 percent and 80.4 percent, respectively.  Also, at a time when high school sport participation is at record levels, Frederick et al., point out that participation in school sports is declining among lower-income students.

Is income level a factor in youth recreation?

An article in ESPN the Magazine by Bruce Kelley and Carl Carchia dives into the data on youth sports participation, citing research from Dr. Don Sabo, Professor at D’Youville College and Co-Director of their Center for Research on Physical Activity, Sport & Health (CRPASH), that points to household income as the primary factor in how early a child begins playing sports. The article refers to Sabo’s work again in noting that low-income boys (27 percent) and low-income girls (17 percent) were among the least likely groups to be on multiple teams (3 or more) during grades 3 through 8. In addition, the report Progress Without Equity: The Provision of High School Athletic Opportunity in the United States, by Gender 1993-94 through 2005-06, published by the Women’s Sports Foundation (Dr. Sabo is a co-author), found differences in access to recreation, noting that opportunities for athletic participation for students was lowest among urban schools (compared to town, suburban and rural) during the research period.

Trend data indicate that the message to eat healthier and move more is making an impact, but perhaps only among certain social classes, particularly those with the resources to enroll their children in school and club sports.  With childhood obesity linked to physical health risks as well as risk-taking behaviors such as drug and alcohol experimentation and conflicts with peers, is it time to lessen the focus on “awareness” and look at realistic ways to increase physical activity for all youth?



Report Citations:

 Social Sciences – Social Sciences – Biological Sciences – Medical Sciences: Carl B. Frederick, Kaisa Snellman, and Robert D. Putnam Increasing socioeconomic disparities in adolescent obesity PNAS 2014; published ahead of print January 13, 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.1321355110

Sabo, D. and Veliz, P. (2011). Progress Without Equity: The Provision of High School Athletic Opportunity in the United States, by Gender 1993-94 through 2005-06. East Meadow, NY: Women’s Sports Foundation.

National Survey Findings Support Association between Delinquency and Victimization

Childhood exposure to domestic and community violence has been linked to the development of PTSD, as well as depression and anxiety, and can negatively impact cognitive development and educational achievement.  In addition, experiencing violence as a youth is considered a risk factor for delinquent behavior.

An October 2013 bulletin from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection takes a closer look at delinquency and victimization of juveniles, particularly where they overlap.  In Children’s Exposure to Violence and the Intersection Between Delinquency and Victimization by Carlos A. Cuevas, David Finkelhor, Anne Shattuck, Heather Turner and Sherry Hamby, data from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence is used to examine the association between the incidence of children’s direct exposure to crime and their reported delinquent activities. 

Researchers categorized youth into three main groups, Delinquent-Victim, Primarily Delinquent, and Primarily Victim, based on reported delinquent acts and victimization (experiencing three or more criminal acts) in the past year.  Additional within-group classifications allowed for distinctions to be made regarding the types of reported behaviors and victimizations.  The key findings are summarized below.

  • For boys, the Primarily Delinquent group made up 20.8 percent of the sample, the Delinquent-Victim group made up 18.1 percent and Primarily Victims 17.9 percent.
  • For girls, the Primarily Victim group made up 21.2 percent of the sample, the Delinquent-Victim group made up 13.3 percent, and the Primarily Delinquent group 13 percent.
  • Among both boys and girls, the Delinquent-Victim group engaged in more delinquency than their male and female peers in the Primarily Delinquent group (boys, 3.9 versus 2.5 activities, girls 3.3 versus 2.0).
  • Both male and female Delinquent-Victim groups reported more victimization that their counterparts in the Primarily Victim groups (boys 6.3 versus 4.5 different victimizations, girls 6.4 versus 4.2).  Male Delinquent-Victims had a higher percentage in every category of victimization (except bullying) compared to males in the Primarily Victim group. For girls, perhaps the most significant statistic is the high sexual victimization rate among the female Delinquent-Victim group (58%) compared to that of the female Primarily Victim group (27%).

The researchers found patterns in the growth or reduction of each group as children aged, although this study was not longitudinal. Their analysis indicates that male rates of delinquency-victimization peak at ages 13-14, while for females it occurs earlier, at ages 11-12. This suggests interventions at the grade school level may be more successful than those introduced during the teenage years.


Lessons on Systems Change from The Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare

The impact of parental substance abuse on children’s stability and well-being is a concern that crosses systems.  Data suggests that parental drug and alcohol use is related to abuse and neglect and increases the likelihood of a parent’s involvement in the justice system – including the possibility of incarceration. The National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (NCSACW) provides In-Depth Technical Assistance (IDTA) to a handful of sites across the country in the areas of substance abuse, child welfare and the courts to result in better outcomes for families involved in these systems.  For approximately 18 months, the IDTA team works with local, state or tribal entities to coordinate strategy and services across systems through the use of evidence-based programs and on-site technical assistance in order to grow capacity for improved child and family outcomes.

The report, In-Depth Technical Assistance (IDTA) Final Report 2007-2012 provides an overview of the IDTA program model, related site accomplishments, and the lessons of system change at various levels. Some findings include,

  • 50 percent of the sites implemented (or enhanced) a recovery specialist model in their programs;
  • 68 percent developed and/or implemented cross-system training plans;
  • 60 percent developed and/or implemented screening protocols that resulted in lowers costs, reduced redundancy and a more efficient referral process;
  • 27 percent used cross-system data collection and tracking processes, such as case reviews and drop-off analysis, to inform policy and program decisions. (Note: according to the SAMHSA website, a Drop-Off Analysis is “a method used to assess linkages among child welfare, treatment agencies and courts. The method helps to identify connections that families need to make between systems to obtain services and achieve their child welfare case goals.”)

In addition to program findings, the brief discusses numerous lessons learned around systems change, particularly: issues in achieving long-term policy and practice changes and avoiding the fracture of collaborative relationships post-project,  leadership focused on engaging and sustaining partners,  use of data to identify areas of and opportunities for change, and realistic timelines for implementing system change and shared accountability.