FORT LEWIS, Wash. (Army News Service, March 30, 2007) - Deployments are hard - for Soldiers, spouses and children, alike. But there is little data to show exactly how children are affected.
Dr. Eric Flake's study, "Deployment Effects Children," is designed to find that out.
Since the Iraq war began in 2003, Col. Beth Ellen Davis, head of development in pediatrics at Madigan Army Medical Center, and other Madigan service providers have tried several methods to help military families with children deal with deployments. Efforts included establishing a hotline, a Web site and an outreach team.
No one called the hotline, Davis recalled, and nothing much came of the Web site, either. But it was clear to Davis that the issues facing families of deployed Soldiers were not going away. So in the summer of 2005, when Flake, developmental pediatrics fellow at MAMC, arrived at Fort Lewis, he began his study.
"What we realized at that time was that there was very little, if any, data that explained how kids were affected during deployment," Flake explained. The best way to find that out was to ask parents, he said. He designed a questionnaire to measure stress overall, parenting stress and child symptoms.
This research is crucial, Davis noted, because there are things about this war that make the experience of deployment different for the military and for families.
"We have more Soldiers who are married with kids than ever before," Davis said. "This is new to the military."
The Internet and 24-hour news cycles also present new challenges for families that have not been present during previous conflicts. Children are inundated with information about the war.
"Seventy bombs a day are going off in Iraq - what does a seven-year-old do with that information?" Davis said.
Because pediatricians are the first to be called by parents when children have trouble, they are the people who need to be able to recognize "red flags" that might require intervention, Flake said. Deployment Effects Children is designed to find the red flags so pediatricians are prepared to help families of deployed Soldiers. And it isn't only military pediatricians who need this information.
According to Davis, 30 percent of families go home during deployments. If home is not near a military hospital, then that parent will need to seek help from a civilian doctor. For that reason, all pediatricians need this information, she said.
"All pediatricians, not just military pediatricians, know that they are taking care of kids (whose parents) are deployed, and they don't know exactly how to recognize and respond to events of deployment," Davis said. "We recognize that that's our role, to help all pediatricians across the country serve this population."
Flake hopes to finish his research by May. To collect data, Flake asks parents of school-aged children, ages five to 12, who are currently experiencing a deployment to fill out a questionnaire. He hopes to collect 300 questionnaires, and now has about 70.
Ultimately, Flake wants to lay the groundwork to describe how children are being affected by deployment. He hopes the information he gathers will lead to more studies and data for America's pediatricians as they help children deal with deployments.
The American Academy of Pediatrics will use the information to create a toolkit for anyone who provides medical care to children that can be used to help service providers help children deal with the issues that go along with a parent being deployed, Davis noted.