Military children don’t exist in a vacuum; rather, they are embedded in and deeply influenced by their families, neighborhoods, schools, the military itself, and many other interacting systems. To minimize the risks that military children face and maximize their resilience, write Harold Kudler and Colonel Rebecca Porter, we must go beyond clinical models that focus on military children as individuals and develop a public health approach that harnesses the strengths of the communities that surround them. In short, we must build communities of care.
One obstacle to building communities of care is that at many times and in many places, military children and their families are essentially invisible. Most schools, for example, do not routinely assess the military status of new students’ parents. Thus Kudler and Porter’s strongest recommendation is that public and private institutions of all sorts—from schools to clinics to religious institutions to law enforcement—should determine which children and families they serve are connected to the military as a first step toward meeting military children’s unique needs. Next, they say, we need policies that help teachers, doctors, pastors, and others who work with children learn more about military culture and the hardships, such as a parent’s deployment, that military children often face.
Kudler and Porter review a broad spectrum of programs that may help build communities of care, developed by the military, by nonprofits, and by academia. Many of these appear promising, but the authors emphasize that almost none are backed by strong scientific evidence of their effectiveness. They also describe new initiatives at the state and federal levels that aim to break down barriers among agencies and promote collaboration in the service of military children and families.