USA — Deployments Can Impact Students’ Academic Success

WASHINGTON — Par­ents’ deploy­ments affect mil­i­tary chil­dren not only on an emo­tion­al lev­el, but also on an aca­d­e­m­ic lev­el, an Army study has revealed.

The study found that chil­dren whose par­ents have deployed for a cumu­la­tive 19 months or more had low­er school achieve­ment test scores than chil­dren whose par­ents had deployed for a less­er time or not at all. But coop­er­a­tive efforts with schools and an increase in behav­ioral health resources can make inroads into coun­ter­ing this out­come, Amy Richard­son, pol­i­cy researcher for the Rand Corp., said yes­ter­day at the 2010 Asso­ci­a­tion of the U.S. Army Annu­al Meet­ing and Expo­si­tion here.

Richard­son offered a sneak peek at the find­ings of a two-year study on the effects of deploy­ments on mil­i­tary children’s aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess and emo­tion­al health dur­ing a stand­ing-room-only fam­i­ly forum, the sec­ond of four to be held dur­ing the annu­al meet­ing. She was one of sev­er­al mil­i­tary and civil­ian experts to speak on the chal­lenges fac­ing mil­i­tary chil­dren and the efforts under way to help them.

Rand Corp. con­duct­ed the study from 2002 to 2008 on behalf of the Army, she said, and encom­passed a sam­ple of mil­i­tary chil­dren, both active and reserve, attend­ing pub­lic schools in North Car­oli­na and Wash­ing­ton state.

The impact for chil­dren began at the 19-month mark in par­ents’ total time deployed, Richard­son not­ed, and the cumu­la­tive amount of time turned out to be more sig­nif­i­cant than the num­ber of deploy­ments.

“What’s remark­able,” she not­ed, “is that this rela­tion­ship is sta­ble across a num­ber of dimen­sions.”

Researchers delved into the find­ings to see if they revealed dif­fer­ences among the chil­dren based on num­ber of deploy­ments or state of res­i­dence. They also looked for vari­a­tions based on age, gen­der and rank or sta­tus of the par­ent, but found sim­i­lar results for all, Richard­son said.

To add anoth­er dimen­sion to the study, researchers inter­viewed behav­ioral health spe­cial­ists, teach­ers, admin­is­tra­tors and coun­selors to gain insight into the unique aca­d­e­m­ic and emo­tion­al chal­lenges mil­i­tary chil­dren, both active and reserve, face when a par­ent is deployed.

What they found was some­thing peo­ple have been aware of intu­itive­ly for some time, Richard­son said: many mil­i­tary fam­i­lies are cop­ing well with deploy­ments, while oth­ers are strug­gling.

But the researchers also dis­cov­ered that schools are thirsty for infor­ma­tion. Admin­is­tra­tors and teach­ers want to know which stu­dents have a mil­i­tary par­ent, their deploy­ment sta­tus and what resources are avail­able to help them so they can bet­ter address stu­dents’ behav­ioral health needs.

“We also found that chil­dren are fac­ing some behav­ioral health chal­lenges that can impact their aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess, and for many of the chil­dren [resilience] seemed to be wan­ing,” Richard­son said.

Also not sur­pris­ing, researchers found that chil­dren who are strug­gling with deploy­ments have par­ents who also are strug­gling, she not­ed, under­scor­ing the impor­tance of parental influ­ence.

Look­ing to the Guard and Reserve, they found some chil­dren felt iso­lat­ed with­in their schools and lack the type of sup­port active-duty chil­dren draw from one anoth­er dur­ing deploy­ments, Richard­son said.

The study revealed a num­ber of road­blocks to com­bat­ing these issues, she said. The Army has a short­age of providers with train­ing in youth and ado­les­cent health, a sit­u­a­tion that is mir­rored across the nation. Addi­tion­al­ly, some providers have lit­tle ground­ing in mil­i­tary cul­ture and of the chal­lenges fam­i­lies face, she added, and the avail­abil­i­ty of pre­ven­tion, screen­ing and ear­ly inter­ven­tion ser­vices varies wide­ly across the Army.

Addi­tion­al­ly, mil­i­tary and fam­i­ly life con­sul­tants — licensed coun­selors who vis­it schools — pro­vide impor­tant sup­port, but mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion of this pro­gram could be improved, Richard­son not­ed.

Richard­son out­lined a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions for the Army, not­ing that progress in many of these areas already has been made since the study began.

Stu­dents need addi­tion­al sup­port with their home­work and school work, she said, which can be online, in per­son, pro­vid­ed through mil­i­tary-spon­sored or sup­port­ed pro­grams, or even through vol­un­teer ser­vices.

Richard­son also sug­gest­ed Army lead­ers cre­ate a method to inform schools about which chil­dren are mil­i­tary and the sta­tus of parental deploy­ment, which could take the shape of a vol­un­tary form hand­ed out at the start of the year or, ide­al­ly, infor­ma­tion fed direct­ly from the Army to the schools.

School coun­selors also need bet­ter access to infor­ma­tion on ser­vices that can help Army fam­i­lies. The infor­ma­tion is scat­tered across sev­er­al web­sites, and many are dif­fi­cult for non­mil­i­tary per­son­nel to nav­i­gate, she not­ed. A one-stop resource for teach­ers and coun­selors who are sup­port­ing mil­i­tary chil­dren would be help­ful, Richard­son sug­gest­ed.

The Army also should improve the pres­ence of school liai­son offi­cers and encour­age them to fos­ter a more col­lab­o­ra­tive effort with school admin­is­tra­tors. Since this rec­om­men­da­tion was first made, Richard­son said, the Army has increased the num­ber of school liai­son offi­cers.

To improve the Army’s behav­ioral health care capac­i­ty, Richard­son sug­gest­ed increas­ing sub­spe­cial­ty pay and oth­er sup­port ben­e­fits to draw more spe­cial­ists, as well as fos­ter­ing free, com­mu­ni­ty-based men­tal health care sup­port through grant fund­ing or coop­er­a­tive efforts.

Telepsy­chi­a­try would offer a valu­able resource to Guard and Reserve mem­bers, she said. The Army already has a pilot pro­gram at Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Drum, N.Y., to reach remote pop­u­la­tions, she added.

On pre­ven­tion, screen­ing and ear­ly inter­ven­tion ser­vices, Richard­son called for the “enhanced inte­gra­tion” of behav­ioral health care into the pri­ma­ry care set­ting by either col­lo­cat­ing both ser­vices or build­ing pri­ma­ry care’s capac­i­ty to address behav­ioral health issues.

Final­ly, Richard­son rec­om­mend­ed that the Army orga­nize more region­al or statewide social events to min­i­mize the social iso­la­tion Guard and Reserve ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies may expe­ri­ence. A social net­work­ing site espe­cial­ly for mil­i­tary youth, with instant mes­sag­ing and chat rooms, would be anoth­er help­ful method, she said.

Stud­ies such as this one offer valu­able insight into the effects of deploy­ments on mil­i­tary chil­dren, Thomas Lam­ont, assis­tant sec­re­tary of the Army for man­pow­er and reserve affairs, said dur­ing the forum.

More than 524,000 sol­diers with chil­dren have deployed in sup­port of the war effort, he not­ed. And as of June 30, 142,000 Army chil­dren were deal­ing with the absence of a deployed par­ent. Army lead­ers need to know how these chil­dren are cop­ing, and what they can do to bet­ter pro­vide aca­d­e­m­ic, social and emo­tion­al sup­port so they can thrive, he said.

The Army will con­tin­ue to seek stud­ies to fol­low chil­dren as they mature to antic­i­pate the long-term effects of deploy­ments and oth­er mil­i­tary stres­sors, Lam­ont said.

“We need to know not just how chil­dren are doing today, but how they’ll react in years to come,” he said. “We need to under­stand these things.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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