Academic journal article The Future of Children

Military Children and Families: Introducing the Issue

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Military Children and Families: Introducing the Issue

Article excerpt

In this issue of The Future of Children, we seek to integrate existing knowledge about the children and families of today's United States military; to identify what we know (and don't know) about their strengths and the challenges they face, as well as the programs that serve them; to specify directions for future research; and to illuminate the evidence (or lack thereof) behind current and future policies and programs that serve these children and families. At the same time, we highlight how research on nonmilitary children and families can help us understand their military-connected counterparts and, in turn, how research on military children can contribute both to a general understanding of human development and to our knowledge of other populations of American children.

These goals are timely and important. Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, followed in 2002 by the war in Iraq, the United States has seen the largest sustained deployment of military servicemen and servicewomen in the history of the all-volunteer force. As a result, more than two million military children have been separated from their service member parents, both fathers and mothers, because of combat deployments. Many families have seen multiple deployments--three, four, even five or more family separations and reunifications. Others have struggled with combat-related mental health problems, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); physical injuries, including traumatic brain injury (TBI); and death, all of which can affect children and families for years. (1)

Media reports about the wars and human interest stories about combat veterans and their families have made most Americans more aware of the challenges that military families and children have faced over the past decade. The history of military children, however, goes back much further in time and tells a complex story of the interrelationship among these children, their military parents and families, and the military and civilian communities in which they live. Though these children face many hardships, they also demonstrate health and wellness in many ways, and they live in communities with rich traditions and resources that strive to support them.

The terms military child and military family have been used in various ways. President Barack Obama and the Joint Chiefs of Staff define military families as active-duty service members, members of the National Guard and Reserve, and veterans, plus the members of their immediate and extended families, as well as the families of those who lost their lives in service to their country. (2) However, researchers who study and collect data on military families and children typically define military families as the spouses and dependent children (age 22 and younger) of men and women on active duty or in the National Guard and Reserve. This is the definition we use here, although we broaden it to include the children of military veterans because the experience of military family life may continue to affect the growth and health of parents, families, and children long after service members leave the armed forces. Though we recognize that military service also affects parents, siblings, and other relatives of service members, our authors do not discuss these relatives in any detail, reflecting a paucity of research in this area. In addition, what becomes of military children when they reach adulthood, including their own greater propensity to volunteer for military service, is also of great interest and worthy of future research, but it is outside the scope of this issue.

The articles here present considerable evidence about America's military-connected children and their families, but the authors also point to the limits of our knowledge. At this writing, in the second decade of the 21st century, we still need unbiased, basic information about what typically characterizes children's development in our diverse military-connected families. …

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