April 4, 2011
Army children whose parents have deployed 19 months or more since 2001 score lower on standardized tests than other Army children whose parents have deployed for shorter periods of time, according to a new RAND Corporation study issued today.
The study also finds that teachers and school counselors report child social and emotional challenges while a parent is deployed, which may be related to these academic difficulties.
The study, "Effects of Soldiers' Deployment on Children's Academic Performance and Behavioral Health," finds that among a sample of Army children, those who experience more cumulative months of parent deployment struggle more academically, and may benefit from both widespread and targeted support to help with the special circumstances related to parental deployment.
Researchers from the RAND Arroyo Center examined 44,000 students who were children of soldiers of all ranks in the active Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard, in North Carolina and Washington state. They analyzed the link between parental deployment and student achievement test scores. They also interviewed staff at schools on or near two large Army installations about the challenges the students face, and interviewed experts and key stakeholders about the barriers to behavioral health services for the students.
"Children with a parent who has deployed 19 months or more particularly face academic difficulties as evidenced by state test scores," said Amy Richardson, lead author of the report and a policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "This is consistent across rank or component of the soldier, seniority of the soldier, gender of the deploying parent, and gender of the child."
School staff reported that they receive little information to let them know that a student's parent is deployed, even when the school is located near a military installation.
"Teachers and counselors told us that in many cases, the only way they learn a child's parent has been deployed is when the child's grades are dropping, and the parent or guardian informs the school that the mom or dad was deployed," Richardson said.
Academically, teachers and counselors noted that some children of deployed parents struggle with completing homework assignments, and may miss school during parental leave. Other academic disruptions may occur if the family moves to be closer to grandparents or other family support.
The report finds that the academic and behavioral challenges children of deployed parents face sometimes stem from the at-home parent's struggle with their spouse's deployment. As a result, for many students, school has become the safe sanctuary when home life is chaotic or uncertain.
The study also identified a lack of providers trained in adolescent and behavioral health issues who understood the unique circumstances of parental deployment and military culture.
Researchers make a number of recommendations for the Army, many of which the Department of Defense and Army are already pursuing, including:
- Assist academically struggling students by providing additional military resources to help students with their schoolwork, particularly during parental deployment or before and after extended absences from school due to parental leave. This could also include providing transportation services for children to after-school activities.
- Develop methods to inform schools about which children are military, and expand efforts to educate school staff about what children may be experiencing when a parent deploys.
- Advocate for the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which addresses state variation in the transfer of records, course sequencing, graduation requirements, and other matters, and examine implementation issues.
- Support children with behavioral health needs by increasing the number of providers who are trained in child and adolescent behavioral health issues.
- Provide training to health care providers — including pediatricians and school nurses — on the military culture and potential impacts of deployment, including the types of emotional issues children may experience.
- Continue to improve access to military families in hard-to-reach areas, such as Reserve Component families who are typically dispersed and are difficult to connect with other Reserve and National Guard families. Promoting social networks among these families could foster relationships among the children, minimize isolation and strengthen the general sense of community.
"We have worked closely with RAND to ensure we are doing everything we can to mitigate the impact of deployments on our children," said Tony Stamilio, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civilian Personnel and Quality of Life. "Our students now have access to free, online academic tutoring services, there are Military Family Life Consultants in many public schools, and our Medical Command has initiated a school-based behavioral health program. We will continue to improve support."
The study can be found at www.rand.org, and was sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. The research was conducted by the Manpower and Training Program within the RAND Arroyo Center, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the U.S. Army.