Apr 3, 2011
Ongoing deployments have placed stresses on Army children and families already challenged by frequent moves and parental absences. These stresses include social or behavioral problems among children at home and at school. With a better understanding of the issues that children face when a parent or guardian deploys, the Army can more effectively target services for military families and their children to address those needs.
The Army asked RAND Arroyo Center to assess the effects of soldiers' deployments on their children's academic performance and emotional and behavioral outcomes in the school setting, and to make recommendations to support programs to ensure that children's academic and emotional needs are met. Efforts are already underway in some areas.
To understand the relationship between deployment and academic achievement, researchers conducted statistical analyses of the correlation between parental deployment and student achievement test scores for public school students in North Carolina and Washington between 2002 and 2008. The analysis included schoolage children of soldiers in the active force, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard. Researchers also conducted interviews with school staff concerning the challenges students face and options for support.
The study found the following:
Children whose parents have deployed for a total of 19 months or more since 2001 have modestly lower (and statistically different) achievement scores compared with those who have experienced less or no parental deployment. This finding holds across states and academic subjects; is consistent across the rank or component of the soldier, seniority of the soldier, gender of the deploying parent, and gender of the child; and it is stable over time. The relationship is stronger for elementary and middle school students, but not significant for high school students. These differences in academic performance suggest that, rather than developing resiliency, children appear to struggle more with more cumulative months of deployment.
The study found no other consistent, statistically significant differences in academic performance among children in the sample. In both states, the number of deployments is not associated with children's academic performance once the researchers accounted for cumulative months of deployment.
Teachers and counselors identified a range of deployment-related issues that may affect children's academic success. These include problems with homework completion, school attendance, and parental engagement, as well as stress related to household responsibilities or resident parents' mental or emotional problems concerning their partner's deployment.
School staff had little consistent information to let them know which students are military and when students may be experiencing deployment. These difficulties were sometimes more pronounced for educators serving Reserve and National Guard families because these students tend to be a small minority in their schools.
Interviewees also identified barriers to behavioral health services for children of deployed soldiers.
School staff identified parental struggles as a challenge for youth. Staff believed that some parents appear to be struggling with deployments more than their children are. Staff also reported that for many children, resiliency appears to be decreasing. Some staff felt they did not often have adequate assistance in helping students and parents access psychological and behavioral health services. Military Family Life Consultants (MFLCs) may provide necessary student, family, and staff support in schools, but those interviewed felt that the monitoring and evaluation of this program could be improved.
Stakeholders felt that the number of available providers with training in child and adolescent services is low. Further, the availability and coverage of certain behavioral health services, as well as prevention, screening, and early intervention, are not adequate and vary geographically. Stakeholders also noted that some providers do not have good grounding in military culture.
Improving support is an ongoing process. Arroyo researchers identified several options the Army might consider to address the challenges faced by military children regarding parental deployment. Because most of these recommendations come with a financial cost, the Army should carefully analyze these costs before pursuing any changes.