Over 2 million children in the U.S. have at least one parent in the military.1 Military families have long been known to carry additional burdens, including frequent moves, changing schools, and this is particularly the case when a parent has been absent from home during a lengthy deployment. Jennifer Trautmann, Ph.D., RN, FNP-BC, a nurse practitioner who spends her Fridays in clinical practice at Fort Belvoir in Alexandria, VA, has seen the stresses of that challenge, both when parents depart and when they return home from a combat or overseas deployment.
“Families with small children often struggle with deployment and reintegration after deployment as it comes at such a critical time in young children’s development,” says Trautmann, a Morton K. and Jane Blaustein Post Doctoral Fellow in Mental Health and Psychiatric Nursing at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing (JHSON). Trautmann is collaborating with Deborah Gross, DNSc, RN, FAAN, JHSON professor and the Leonard and Helen Stulman Endowed Chair in Mental Health & Psychiatric Nursing, and Grace Ho, Ph.D., RN, a JHSON graduate and former Morton K. and Jane Blaustein Post Doctoral Fellow, to identify perceptions and challenges experienced within these families and seek out opportunities for interventions “to strengthen the mental health and well-being of military-connected parents and their young children.”
In general, children from military families “have significantly more mental health problems,” than their civilian counterparts, according to “Impact of Deployment on Military Families with Young Children: a Systematic Review,” written by Trautmann and colleagues, and published in Nursing Outlook in 2015.2 These behavioral health problems include anxiety, depression, attachment difficulties in young children, and suicidal thoughts and substance use in older children.
In addition, the authors reviewed studies that found “deployment was associated with increased parent stress, child behavior problems, health care utilization, and child maltreatment.” And yet, researchers have struggled to develop evidence-based interventions that serve the diverse military family population. The authors concluded that military families “face unique life circumstances associated with military service that place greater burdens on them than those on families in the general population.”
Trautmann’s current study, designed to explore “Challenges for Military Parents of Young Children during Deployment,” will recruit 120 military-connected mothers with children aged 5 and younger, living in the U.S., whose spouse or partner is active duty. Mothers will complete the study anonymously online to express their views on what they feel were important for them in order to be good parents for their young children during their spouse’s deployment. The goal of the study is to understand how we can better serve military families with young children. Learn more here at nursing.jhu.edu/militaryfamily.
- Department of Defense, (2012). Profile of the Military Community. Washington, DC: Department of Defense.
- Trautmann, J., Alhusen, J., & Gross, D. (2015). Impact of deployment on military families with young children: A systematic review.Nursing outlook, 63(6), 656-679.
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