WASHINGTON – A first-of-its-kind nationwide assessment, “Study on Children of Seriously Wounded Service Members,” reveals challenging trends that can have a significant impact on the social and psychological development of children of wounded service members. The study, commissioned by the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, was conducted by the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research, part of the School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES) at the University of San Diego.
Five trends prevailed from the study that can impact the 52,000 children in the United States that are living with a parent who has been wounded in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. When not addressed, these challenges can have a lasting impact on children’s social, emotional, and academic development.
Initial communication about the injury
Many parents, while mindful of protecting their children, lack the tools or techniques for how to communicate, so discussions often don’t adequately prepare children for the short- and long-term consequences of their ‘new normal’.
Understanding severity of the parent’s injury
Invisible wounds, such as post- traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and depression, can be difficult to comprehend and can impact family dynamics and parent-child relationships, influencing a child’s self-esteem and overall development.
Loss of childhood
Caring for a seriously physically wounded parent may require children to take on taxing caretaking duties by necessity, interfering with their activities, development and perceived normalcy. This means growing up early and taking on responsibilities many of their peers do not understand.
Diversion of attention
When the injured parent needs significant care giving, it diverts parents’ focus away from the child to the parent in need. Following this, providing adequate childcare can become a struggle and may leave children with a sense of loss of both parents.
Social and community isolation
Not only are children of wounded service members often physically isolated from the military communities that support them and understand what they are going through, they also experience social isolation from their peers, given drastic differences in their day-to-day lives compared to peers.
“These children are struggling with the particular challenges of not only of being part of a military family, but readjusting to a ‘new normal’ when a parent comes home with a life-altering injury,” said Dr. Mary Jo Schumann, associate director at the Caster Center and co-principal investigator of this study. “These challenges are compounded by the isolation many of the children face, and it’s disconcerting that there are not many programs that provide direct short- and long-term support to these children.”
While over 400 organizations exist to-date to assist seriously wounded service members and their families, the majority of the programs focus on the wounded service member, and often do not address the long-term issues of children and families.
“This study proves what the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation has believed for a long time, that military children and spouses are often the hidden faces of huge sacrifice,” said Margaret B. Davis, president and chief executive officer, Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation. “These families have already sacrificed so much for this country. It’s our job, along with our partners, to work together to address the unmet needs of these families and provide them with the support they require to be well.”
The study’s researchers concluded that there is an immediate need for a variety of focused programs to meet the needs of family members, especially children. The following resources, programs and services are researcher recommended to more effectively address the unique challenges and needs of children and spouses.
• Create focused programs that ultimately hone in on the needs of both parents and children to develop long-term resiliency strategies
• Provide children with peer-to-peer social support
• Offer mentoring programs for parents and children
• Provide communication at the right time and in the right manner
• Develop a central database of support programs and services that will ultimately help to reduce the negative impact of challenges identified in the study.