April 22, 2013: Two million children in the U.S. have been affected by parental military deployments -- 58% of service members have children -- over the last decade. These military families hold the sad record of being the most deployed and re-deployed service generation in American history, as well as the service generation with the longest length of deployments. And -- 58% of them are parents; 42% of their children are aged 0-5.
(A RAND Corporation study in 2009 that found military children were more anxious than children in the general civilian population focused on 11-17-year-olds.)
Three progressive studies, all focusing on the impact of these deployments on the lives on children, were presented last week at the Society for Research in Child Development's biennial conference in Seattle.
In opening the discussion, researchers Julie Wargo Aikins and Deane Aikins, at left, of the Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at, respectively, the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, Wayne State Univ. and the John Dingell Veterans Affairs Medical Center, both in Detroit, noted that while "child adjustment to parental deployment has been measured in terms of psychopathology and problem behaviors, psychopathology is like only the 'tip of the iceberg.' " Further, the Aikins report that while, in their sample, child gender "has no significant impact on our findings...younger childeren [are] more likely to meet current criteria for clinically significant behavioral problems."
The numbers? In the "clinical concern" category are 89% of the preschool-age children in the researchers' sample (and 25% of school age children). A contributing factor to these figures is what the Aikins call "alarming rates of depressive symptoms/depression among [non-deployed] mothers [and] importantly...higher for mothers of younger children...."
The study is intended to further the understanding of the issue so that appropriate interventions can be made to aid the families. Its presentation at the SRCD conference was succeeded by programmatic intervention models.