The Catholic University of America

The impact of familial and contextual factors on the emotional health of children, ages 0-3: A study of military families


Dr. Dorinda Williams


Over the past 13 years, the U.S. has been engaged in “the long war,” a battle that has been chronicled by many, but fought by few.  The burden of carrying the long war, marked by repeated and extended deployment, has taken its toll on service members and their families.  Many psychologically injured service members are parents returning home to their families, tasked with rebuilding relationships with children who have grown physically and developmentally.  Over 42% of children of active duty parents are between the ages of 0 to 5.  Young children are particularly vulnerable to environmental stress and impaired parental capacity.  Nonetheless, there is limited research focusing on the experiences of young children affected by their parents’ deployment experiences.  The study utilized secondary analysis of data derived from the first wave of the 2010 longitudinal Military Family Life Project (MFLP), conducted by the Human Resources Strategic Assessment Program (HSRAP), Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC).  Bivariate and multiple regression analysis were used to examine the interplay of risk and protective factors influencing the emotional health of young children, ages 0-3, affected by post-deployment circumstances.  Several psychosocial variables emerged as predictors of young children’s emotional health in the context of reintegration, including the civilian parent’s (CP’s) perception that the public supports the war, CP stress, couple readjustment, community support, military satisfaction, imminent deployment, perception that deployed service members are making a difference, family support, military parent (MP) distress, and marital satisfaction.  Findings suggest that social workers and other professionals should consider the needs of both the parent and child in fostering resilience across the family unit.  Furthermore, social workers, providers, and policy makers are urged to strengthen family and community resources, as well as programs and services across systems, on behalf of families and their young children.  These mechanisms of support can be leveraged to reduce parental stress, foster optimal couple readjustment, and promote positive family schemas that, in turn, contribute to the emotional health of the military’s youngest family members.