Identifying Policy Implications and Future Research Directions Regarding Military Community Support and Child Psychosocial Adjustment

Published in: Military Medicine, Volume 182 Issue 5/6 (May 2017), pages 1572-1580. doi: 10.7205/MILMED-D-17-00002

Posted on RAND.org on June 07, 2017

by Charles C. Engel

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Introduction

As former U.S. Army Surgeon General Horoho points out, a large fraction of what determines the health and readiness of our military families does not occur during appointments with professionals, but rather within the "Lifespace — where health really happens..." Indeed, when children of military families experience psychosocial difficulties, such stress impacts the service members' personal well-being and ability to focus at work, impairing their capacity to attend to the mission. As such, the Department of Defense (DoD) has instituted a family readiness system to bolster resiliency within military families, including children, e.g., by linking families with support networks. Bolstering military family resiliency, including the prevention of and effective intervention for child psychosocial problems, is an important issue at all levels of the DoD. Service members, leaders, and policy makers have a vested interest in promoting mission readiness and a healthy force. Research can play an important role in shaping decision-making by consolidating what is currently known and not known about a particular expertise area. To date, there has been no consolidation of research regarding outcomes associated with military community support and the programs that currently exist to bolster child and family resiliency. Given the importance of military families to mission readiness, a review of the relevant research is warranted.

Methods

This commentary article reviews the literature on community support for military children, provides an overview of currently available resources, discusses concerns with the current provision of support services to military families, and offers recommendations for future research, policy, and implementation of military community support programs.

Conclusion

Although there is a dearth of research on available support programs, there appears to be no lack of services available to military families. However, several steps could be taken to make these resources into a more supportive system. Family members must be able to identify what support services exist, distinguish which service is most suitable for their needs, and be able to readily access these services in a resource-conserving manner. Considerable overlap in support services seems to suggest limited coordination between organizations and service providers, particularly in regard to the government/civilian interface, which inherently lies outside of DoD control. This overlap suggests a redundancy, which may not be efficient economically or in regard to accessing support. There also may be some confusion over which support service is most suitable for the consumer's need. Although some overlap is useful, such as the provision of different services to different populations (e.g., having separate programs for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine subcultures), limited organization and parsimonious provision of services makes it particularly difficult for spouses and family members to navigate resources. Initial attempts are being made to organize and consolidate resources in both the government and civilian sectors. However, it is clear that these initiatives have not completely solved problems related to resource access, redundancy, and lack of research-supported efficacy.

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