Military deployment of a parent can affect the family left at home. The stress can include anxiety and depression that puts a strain on parenting and relationships.
Candice Alfano is a clinical psychologist at the UH and the director of SACK, the Sleep and Anxiety Center for Kids. She is leading a major study that examines the effects of single or repeated deployment, and how they impact children.
"We don't necessarily assume that just because you have a parent who deploys that this means that you develop problems in different areas, but there's enough research now to suggest that there's a good proportion of kids that do."
She's been compiling questionnaires that were filled out by families in all branches of the military.
"Any family that has one or more service members. We have more families now that have two service members as parents, but any service member that has deployed in the past during the, specifically the conflict that we're still involved in the War on Terror, and that have one or more children between the ages of 2 and 17."
She's noticed a wide range of reaction from toddlers to teenagers.
"Often times we see an increase in separation anxiety [and] refusal to sleep alone. And then in adolescents — which is a very different age group — we see more risk taking behaviors; we see more defiance; we see higher rates of depression and anxiety. So by recruiting families with a range of ages, we hope to better understand how deployment affects kids at these different kind of developmental stages."
Dr Alfano says deployment to violent surroundings make adjustments difficult for returning soldiers. Former Marine Bryan Escobedo is with Lone Star Veterans Association. He says adjustment can be a challenge.
"You have to realize that that's a chapter in your life that's closed and now it's time to move on. So goals are incredibly important to have, and if you don't know, there's resources in the community such as my organization — The Lone Star Veterans Association — that can guide an individual through their transition."
Hernandez: "Candice, is this where this study would differ from other studies that werte done?"
Alfano: "The primary focus is on the family unit, but you can't focus on the unit without focusing on the individuals within the unit. I love what Bryan just said, because this has nothing to do with working your way through it all on your own, or just waiting to see if it'll get better. The family is such an important factor. If you've got conflict within the family, if there's a lack of understanding of what the service member is going through, you've made it all the harder for them to reach out and get help. And so from this study's perspective, we want to reach veterans through the family because support is so critical."
Information on the study and how to participate can be found by calling Jessica Balderas at 713 743-3400 or by email at www.uh.edu/sack.