The National Military Family Association has been around since 1969, providing scholarships for the children of servicemembers, lobbying on behalf of those families, and operating camps and retreats for military children.
But it was a recent study conducted by the organization that was touched on during a presentation to The American Legion's Policy Coordinating and Action Group by the organization's government relations director, Kathleen Moakler.
During the morning session at Wednesday's PCAG event, Moakler reviewed a study that her organization commissioned the RAND Corporation to conduct, examining military children's experiences when their parents deployed. The results of the study - Children on the Homefront: The Experience of Children from Military Families - were published in January in the journal Pediatrics.
Families with children ages 11-17 who applied to the organization's 2008 Operation Purple Summer Camp program were invited to participate in the survey. The survey included a total of 3,104 participants - 1,507 parent-child sets. Sixty three percent were from the active-duty component, and 57 percent were Army families. The racial and ethnic mix of the survey matches that of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The families were surveyed from June 2008 to August 2009.
"We've had a lot of anecdotal information about how our children and caregivers are doing, but there's no hard data," Moakler said. "This is the first study that allowed children to speak in their own voice."
Key results of the study included:
- Children in military families experienced emotional and behavioral difficulties at rates above national averages.
- About one-third of the children reported symptoms of anxiety, which is somewhat higher than the percentage reported in other studies of children.
- Self-reported problems varied by age and gender: Older youths and boys reported more difficulties with school and more problem behaviors, such as fighting; greater numbers of younger children (compared with older ones) and girls reported anxiety symptoms.
- Longer periods of parental deployment (within the past three years) were linked to greater difficulties in children's social and emotional functioning, at least based on caregiver reports.
- Deployment-related challenges varied by age and gender: Older youths experienced greater school- and peer-related difficulties during deployment; girls experienced greater difficulties during the period of reintegration than did boys.
"We had over 95-percent participation rate. People would be moving and they'd call the RAND Corporation and say, ‘Here's my new (phone) number. I still want to participate,'" Moakler said. "Military families want to tell their story. They know this is important."
With the data, Moakler said, the hope is that funding for military family programs will continue to meet the demand created by eight-plus years of war, and that programs that are working will be identified and replicated.
Moakler also hopes the data will engage communities to identify and meet the needs of local military families. She praised the Legion for its efforts in that endeavor.
"Your community outreach... is one of the most important things that you do: making people aware of the resources that are out there," she said.