Academic journal article The Future of Children

Building Communities of Care for Military Children and Families

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Building Communities of Care for Military Children and Families

Article excerpt

Summary

Military children don't exist in a vacuum; rather, they are embedded in and deeply influenced by their families, neighborhoods, schools, the military itself, and many other interacting systems. To minimize the risks that military children face and maximize their resilience, write Harold Kudler and Colonel Rebecca Porter, we must go beyond clinical models that focus on military children as individuals and develop a public health approach that harnesses the strengths of the communities that surround them. In short, we must build communities of care.

One obstacle to building communities of care is that at many times and in many places, military children and their families are essentially invisible. Most schools, for example, do not routinely assess the military status of new students' parents. Thus Kudler and Porter's strongest recommendation is that public and private institutions of all sorts--from schools to clinics to religious institutions to law enforcement--should determine which children and families they serve are connected to the military as a first step toward meeting military children's unique needs. Next, they say, we need policies that help teachers, doctors, pastors, and others who work with children learn more about military culture and the hardships, such as a parent's deployment, that military children often face.

Kudler and Porter review a broad spectrum of programs that may help build communities of care, developed by the military, by nonprofits, and by academia. Many of these appear promising, but the authors emphasize that almost none are backed by strong scientific evidence of their effectiveness. They also describe new initiatives at the state and federal levels that aim to break down barriers among agencies and promote collaboration in the service of military children and families.

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Pediatrician-turned-child psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott once said that "there is no such thing as a baby." (1) In other words, no child exists in isolation. Each develops biologically, psychologically, and socially through give-and-take with others. By the same token, military children develop through their relations with their military parents, other family members, caretakers, schools, communities, and the culture and operational tempo of the armed forces. That's what makes them military children. And many such children are, themselves, intergenerational links in long family histories of military service, which they will pass on to their own children. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) estimated that 57 percent of active-duty troops serving in 2011 were the children of current or former active-duty or reserve service members. (2) To understand and promote the growth and health of military children, for their own sake and for the sake of our nation, we must consider interactions that extend across families, communities, culture, and time. In practical terms, we need a public health model that looks beyond the clinical care of individual military children to define broader interactions that either promote or threaten their wellbeing. We must also pose a fundamental question: How does a nation develop communities of care that maximize resilience and minimize the health risks that military children and their families face?

In this article, we define communities of care as complex systems that work across individual, parent/child, family, community, military, national, and even international levels of organization to promote the health and development of military children. Relatively few elements of these communities are clinical. Some elements focus directly on military children, while others support military children (or, at least, minimize their vulnerabilities) through interaction with parents, schools, youth organizations, law enforcement and judicial systems, educational and vocational programs, and veterans' organizations, among others. …

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