How are children’s lives altered when a parent goes off to war? What aspects of combat deployment are most likely to put children at risk for psychological and other problems, and what resources for resilience can they tap to overcome such hardships and thrive?
To answer these questions, Patricia Lester and Lieutenant Colonel Eric Flake first examine the deployment cycle, a multistage process that begins with a period of anxious preparation after a family receives notice that a parent will be sent into combat. Perhaps surprisingly, for many families, they write, the most stressful part of the deployment cycle is not the long months of separation that follow but the postdeployment period, when service members, having come home from war, must be reintegrated into families whose internal rhythms have changed and where children have taken on new roles. Lester and Flake then walk us through a range of theoretical perspectives that help us understand the interconnected environments in which military children live their lives, from the dynamics of the family system itself to the external contexts of the communities where they live and the military culture that helps form their identity.
The authors conclude that policy makers can help military-connected children and their families cope with deployment by, among other things, strengthening community support services and adopting public health education measures that are designed to reduce the stigma of seeking treatment for psychological distress. They warn, however, that much recent research on military children’s response to deployment is flawed in various ways, and they call for better-designed, longer-term studies as well as more rigorous evaluation of existing and future support programs.