Responding to the Needs of Military Families

in SSW in the Media
March 30th, 2010







In conjunction with their research project “Strong Families Strong Forces,” School of Social Work Assistant Professor Ruth Paris and Associate Professor Ellen R. DeVoe will discuss their ongoing research at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP). Hosted by the Boston Institute for the Development of Infants and Parents, their presentation, “When a Parent Has Gone to War: Building Services for Children in Military Families,” will take place at MSPP on April 24, 2010.

“We’re trying to promote a healthy relationship between parents and children,” said DeVoe. “If you think about what that length of separation means for a child from infancy to five years old, they don’t really have a way to understand where this person went, even though family members at home talk with them about it and show them pictures.”

Paris and DeVoe will provide an orientation to working with military families with young children.  With a focus on “the cycle of deployment,” the presentation will describe the adjustments and transitions that young children and their parents face through each phase of deployment.

“Strong Families Strong Forces” is a four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Defense led by the BU School of Social Work. A home-based family program that aims to mitigate the impact of combat and separation-related stress on parent-child and family relationships, the project is designed to support the healthy family reintegration of soldiers from Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom and is aimed toward families with children up to five years old.

“Military families are doing an incredible job trying to maintain those connections with technology,” DeVoe said. “But the separation for a two-year-old may feel like a death because that person is just gone. Combat trauma in the parents may be manifested by avoidance, and when you avoid kids they feel rejected. If soldiers have post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, they can be triggered by a toddler having a tantrum and that might send them into a flashback, and obviously that’s not a healthy situation in a home environment.”

According to MSPP, more than 1.6 million Americans have been actively engaged in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. While most individuals acclimate to stressful stimuli, more than one-third of troops will experience depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

“There are thousands of families with young children who have been affected by the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Paris. “Military families in the National Guard and Reserves in our communities face many stressors outside the experience of most of their neighbors. As the biggest providers of family services and mental health in the U.S., social workers need to learn about what is happening in military families.”