Academic journal article The Future of Children

Unlocking Insights about Military Children and Families

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Unlocking Insights about Military Children and Families

Article excerpt

Summary

As this issue of the Future of Children makes clear, we have much yet to learn about military children and their families. A big part of the reason, write Anita Chandra and Andrew London, is that we lack sufficiently robust sources of data. Until we collect more and better data about military families, Chandra and London say, we will not be able to study the breadth of their experiences and sources of resilience, distinguish among subgroups within the diverse military community, or compare military children with their civilian counterparts.

After surveying the available sources of data and explaining what they are lacking and why, Chandra and London make several recommendations. First, they say, major longitudinal national surveys, as well as administrative data systems (for example, in health care and in schools), should routinely ask about children's connections to the military, so that military families can be flagged in statistical analyses. Second, questions on national surveys and psychological assessments should be formulated and calibrated for military children to be certain that they resonate with military culture. Third, researchers who study military children should consider adopting a life-course perspective, examining children from birth to adulthood as they and their families move through the transitions of military life and into or out of the civilian world.

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In the past decade, during the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, researchers have focused on military children and youth to an unprecedented degree. (1) As this issue of the Future of Children shows, these researchers have raised serious questions about the findings of earlier work about military children and the adequacy of the data available to study them. Moreover, this issue points to both challenges and opportunities in any effort to expand systematic exploration of military children's experiences.

Despite the limitations of the data, new research on children in military families has advanced relatively quickly as researchers and policy makers have sought to learn more about the academic, social, emotional, and behavioral consequences of parental deployment for children. (2) Still, our knowledge remains incomplete, and opportunities to expand the data infrastructure for future research have not been vigorously pursued. The national survey and administrative data available to researchers today has substantial gaps that make it hard to robustly analyze how military children grow and develop or to evaluate how parents' military service affects children's lives. These gaps in the data hinder our ability to:

* accumulate a comprehensive understanding of military children's experiences, resilience, and needs;

* focus on important subgroups of the military child population (for example, children of active-duty mothers versus fathers, children whose parents serve in different branches of the military, or children of parents who have experienced combat); and

* compare military children with their nonmilitary counterparts.

To improve the situation, national surveys should routinely ask about parents' military experience; medical histories and administrative and educational data systems should do so as well. Moreover, researchers who conduct smaller-scale studies should adapt their methodologies and test their measurements on military populations and examine how the unique circumstances of military life affect children's health, behavior, and emotions.

Beyond the need for new data and better measurements, there are questions about "who counts," particularly in relation to the transition from military to veteran status. To improve data collection, we need to carefully consider the definition of a military family. Does that definition include the families of veterans? Some argue that veterans' families are, by definition, families that include at least one person who has served on active duty, and that the relationship between the military and the family can persist in complex ways after the active-duty period ends. …

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