Children ages 3 to 5 present with high levels of externalizing and internalizing behavior. Teenagers with a deployed parent, especially those who are raised by a nonparent during the deployment, exhibit higher rates of substance abuse and binge drinking compared with teenagers who do not have parents in the military. Children who take on parenting roles during a parent’s deployment may miss out on age-appropriate activities, including spending time with peers, which in turn can interfere with age-appropriate development.
Family communication is a major protective factor for children’s psychological and behavioral responses to parental deployment. Other protective factors include children’s participation in school and after-school activities and support from the military community.
Behavioral health care professionals can improve their services for military families by educating themselves about military culture and the unique challenges faced by families of veterans and by asking about military service during intake. These steps may help build rapport with clients and improve diagnosis, treatment plans, and outcomes.
It may also be beneficial to educate veterans about what responses to separation and reunion are age typical in children and about the risk of interpersonal violence between returned veterans and their spouses/partners, particularly if the veteran has PTSD. Building professional relationships with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense can help behavioral health care professionals effectively connect military families with these agencies.
Department of Veterans Affairs toolkit for community providers to learn about military culture: http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/communityproviders/index.asp.
Department of Defense online course about effects of deployment on children and families: http://www.deploymentpsych.org
Ms Pajak is a Licensed Medical Social Worker and Certified Correctional Health Professional. She graduated from The Georgia Institute of Technology and The University of Georgia. She works at a county jail in Atlanta, Georgia, as a mental health clinician.
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