Military children and their families are one of the biggest American subcultures, yet often go unnoticed in the public sphere. With an estimated 57 percent of active-duty troops in 2011 being the children of current or former service members, broader interactions beyond clinical care must extend across families, communities and culture. A fall 2013 report by The Future of Children addresses the importance of these interactions to help better understand and promote healthy lives for military children.
Despite tensions between clinical models and public health models, as well as limited research on military children, building effective communities of care is a plausible solution to catering to their needs. Creating a well-informed community is crucial in supporting military children. Making the invisible community visible, by requiring schools, local law enforcement programs, employers, clinics and religious institutions to identify those connected to military families, is a step to help cater to the unique needs to military children.
Moreover, communities must understand that there is no single approach to serving military children because of differing ages, communities and different levels of need. Thus, it is important for civilians to understand these levels and for clinical program staff members be taught military culture and basic deployment mental health. This helps recognize early warnings signs of stress in children rather than waiting for them to develop a clear clinical disorder and makes it easier to provide the right resources for their healthy growth.
Also, the awareness of assistance programs and resources at the state and federal level, as well as the workplace and schools can help eradicate the unwillingness to report child issues for fear that service members will be held responsible. In addition, the level of social support is an important predictor of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The report discusses different successful military programs that support communities of care like Family Readiness Groups, RESPECT-Mil, Military Kids Connect and FOCUS, as well as model civilian programs like the National Military Family Foundation, Give an Hour, Living in the New Normal Institute and Talk Listen Connect, but also urges the further integration of clinical systems with community systems.
Instead of choosing between competing approaches and services, the report emphasizes that communities should look for synergy among different programs in their communities to help address the problems of military children in the close proximity of their homes, schools, community organizations and doctors’ offices. The ease of access and support should provide multiple means where military children – who often serve alongside their parents in ways that go unnoticed – have the appropriate resources to cope.
The Future of Children is a nonprofit collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution that helps translate social science research on children and youth to information useful to policymakers, practitioners, students and other interested parties. The Fall 2013 issue highlights the children and families of today's U.S. miliatry.