Supporting Young Children in Military Families

A recent report by Child Trends suggests young children in military families may need additional support to help mitigate some of the risks associated with having one or both parents deployed away from the home. 

Young children in military-connected families—families that include those still on active duty, serving in the National Guard and Reserves, or military veterans, can experience significant stress from frequent moves, having one or sometimes both parents away for long periods of time, and from any subsequent readjustment issues parents might have after returning from deployment. 

This brief examines emerging research on how issues related to parental deployment – parental separation, disruptions in living circumstances and caregivers, increased parental stress, and direct and indirect experience of trauma - impact the social, emotional, and cognitive development of children under age five. About two million children under the age of 18 have at least one active-duty parent, and nearly 500,000 of these children are between the ages of birth and six years old. Child Trends reports that one study found children ages three to five with a deployed parent showed greater evidence of externalizing behaviors (e.g. attention difficulties, aggression) compared to their peers without a deployed parent.

The report highlights a number of ways that communities, including schools, healthcare providers, policymakers and others, can increase supports for and meet the needs of young children in military-connected families, including:

  • Make sure children are receiving regular, preventive “well-child” pediatric visits to assess whether children are developing appropriately;
  • Offer parents facing deployment information on coping with separation;
  • Take a family-systems approach for those military families affected by separation and deployment, working both with families as a unit and with individual family members;
  • Expand mental health services available to military-connected families, including deployment of mental health professionals in early education settings; and
  • Increase access to high-quality child care for military families living on and off military bases. The Department of Defense provides well-regarded and high-quality child care, however, it is not as widely available to the estimated two-thirds of military personnel living off base.

Please see the US Army Medical Department Army Behavioral Health for a list of resources on supporting children and families before and after deployment.

Carol Emig, President, Child Trends  (July 24, 2013)