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Creating a Welcoming Environment for Military and Veteran Families
This Month of the Military Child, hold in mind the importance of supporting military children and their families.
Reading this title, you might be tempted to stop reading—thinking, “We don’t work with military-connected families!” The fact is you probably do! Even if you live far from a military installation, your community is filled with families who have a caregiver serving in the National Guard, Reserves, or is a Veteran. If you don’t ask families if they have experience with the military, you might not know.
April is the Month of the Military Child – a month to honor the experiences of military children and their families, acknowledge the unique impacts of the military lifestyle on children, and ensure that the children of both active duty and veteran families feel “seen” by the civilian community.
Military Families Statistics
There are about 1.3 million active duty service members in the United States military and an additional 1.1 million serving in the Ready Reserve and Coast Guard. Of active duty, Ready Reserve, and Coast Guard members, about 40% have children under the age of 18. Of that group, 40% of these children are under the age of six years old.1 However, this doesn’t include the young children of former service members. There are about 4 million post-9/11 veterans in the United States as of 20162, and their children will live anywhere the veteran parent decides to relocate to after military separation.
There are many young children who have a parent who is military-connected across the country. And that’s important – the experiences of these families and the impacts of service have ripple effects, not just on service members and veterans, but also on their young children. The military lifestyle requires frequent moves, time away for training, and deployments. For young children, this means changing routines, unpredictability, and time apart from a beloved parent – all experiences that can be confusing and distressing for young children. Additionally, a significant portion of post-9/11 veterans experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that can negatively impact parenting and cause problems in young children, including regression, behavioral challenges, sleep disturbances, and problems with attachment.3
What You Can Do
For organizations that serve young children and their families, supporting military families means creating an environment that helps them to feel welcome and provides them with the information and services they need. Consider the following actions you can take to create a space like this:
- Consider your office signage and brochures/resources. What, if any, include images of or address the needs of military families and veterans? Create space for representation of military and veteran families on your walls and resource centers.
- When completing intakes or other “program entry” procedures, ask about military status. It isn’t enough to say, “Is anyone in the home in the military?” – this may prompt a “no” response from veteran parents or those who no longer physically reside with an active duty or Ready Reserve member. Instead, ask “Is anyone in the family currently serving or has served in the military, Coast Guard, or Ready Reserve/National Guard?” This will help paint a more complete picture of which children are military-connected.
- When you’ve identified a family that is military-connected, spend some time learning more about their service. Were they ever deployed? How old was their child during that time away? Do they have any fears or worries about the impacts of separation on their young child? For more guidance on these conversations and questions, review this resource from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network – After Service: Veteran Families in Transition.
- Imagine a mother sharing with you the following: “My spouse and I had to PCS from NAS Jacksonville to San Diego two weeks after the birth of our daughter; then, my spouse was away at SERE for two weeks and we had no contact, followed by a two-month DET.” What does this mean in layman’s terms? “My family moved from a Navy base in Florida to southern California after my daughter was only two weeks old. Once we got there, my spouse attended a survival training program that doesn’t allow for any contact between him and us. Then, after he got back, he was sent to another temporary location with his fellow service members for two months – even though we could have some contact, we were physically apart during that time.” For experienced military families, this story is understandable and relatable, but it may not be for you or your staff. Be proactive by learning about military lifestyle and culture so that you’re knowledgeable of the unique needs of military-connected families. Some resources for this include:
Veteran 101: Military Culture
Uniformed Services University: Learn About Military Culture
National Association of Social Workers Military & Veterans Resources
- Although every family will have different needs based on current or prior military service, a running concern for many is staying connected to their young child. Even if a service member wasn’t deployed, or was gone for only a short period of time, creating opportunities for building strong bonds is a great way to not only support military-connected families, but also to show that you understand their needs. Consider the following resources for ways you can offer this support:
Babies on the Homefront
This app, designed for military-connected parents, was built to provide a one-stop resource for ways to stay connected, have fun, learn about self-care, and stay on top of ways to support their young child’s development.
Creating Activities for Strengthening Parent-Child Connections
This resource provides a list of fun, interactive activities to build parent-child bonds.
The Military Family Projects Team at ZERO TO THREE is dedicated to providing information and training to professionals serving military-connected families. Our Military and Veteran Families Support Resource page includes tons of information on what you need to know to support these families. Please contact us for more information on training opportunities and other resources that can support your work!