The 6 Most Important Child Development Research Studies of 2011

Study: Parental Military Deployment Raises Risk of Problems in Kids

Study name: "Deployment and mental health diagnoses among children of US Army personnel," Mansfield et al., 2011, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Volume 165 (11), p. 999 - 1005.

What was found? By examining more than 300,000 children (between ages 5 to 17) with at least one active-duty army parent, this study found a "dose-response" relationship between parental deployment and kids' psychological health. The more time a parent spent deployed (calculated in months), the more likely it was that a child developed a behavioral or emotional disorder (including acute stress disorders).

Why is this study influential? The new concerns here are the increased number of kids with deployed parents (a relatively new phenomenon corresponding to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom) and the multiples issues that arise from all stages of deployment (preparing for deployment, dealing with the absence of a parent, handling transitions after a parent returns from deployment, and grieving the death of a parent). There are now well over one million kids with a parent in active duty; nearly 75 percent of them are younger than 11 years old and almost half are younger than 5. This particular study focuses attention on a large population that has been under-recognized and under-served.

What's the take-home message? There is a profound need to increase civilian awareness of the challenges facing military families, many of who live in civilian communities. Neighbors, community leaders, and professionals (such as teachers and pediatricians) need to be aware of the daily sacrifices these families are making and be ready to offer appropriate types of support. The broader issues also expand to other families with frequent disruptions in their lives -- those with parents who travel often, parents working through custody arrangements, and so forth. Expect more research to focus on the special challenges facing military families, as well as how planned and unplanned disruptions in parental presence affect children's psychological health.

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