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The Psychosocial Effects of Deployment on Military Children

Flake, Eric M., MD; Davis, Beth Ellen, MD, MPH; Johnson, Patti L., PhD; Middleton, Laura S., PhD

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: August 2009 - Volume 30 - Issue 4 - p 271-278
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e3181aac6e4
Original Article

Objective: The impact of the Global War on Terror on two million U.S. military children remains unknown. The purpose of this study was to describe the psychosocial profile of school age children during parental deployment utilizing standardized psychosocial health and stress measures, and to identify predictors of children at “high risk” for psychosocial morbidity during wartime deployment.

Methods: Army spouses with a deployed service member and a child aged 5–12 years completed a deployment packet consisting of demographic and psychosocial questions. The psychosocial health measures included the Pediatric Symptom Checklist (PSC), the Parenting Stress Index-Short Form and the Perceived Stress Scale-4.

Results: Overall, 32% of respondents exceeded the PSC cut off score for their child, indicating “high risk” for psychosocial morbidity and 42% reported “high risk” stress on the Parenting Stress Index-Short Form. Parenting stress significantly predicted an increase in child psychosocial morbidity (odds ratio 7.41, confidence interval 2.9–19.0, p < 0.01). Parents utilizing military support reported less child psychosocial morbidity (odds ratio 0.32, confidence interval 0.13–0.77, p < 0.01) and parental college education was related to a decrease in child psychosocial morbidity (odds ratio 0.33, confidence interval 0.13–0.81, p < 0.02). The effects of military rank, child gender, child age, and race or ethnic background did not reach statistical significance.

Conclusion: Families in this study experiencing deployment identified one-third of military children at “high risk” for psychosocial morbidity. The most significant predictor of child psychosocial functioning during wartime deployment was parenting stress. Military, family and community supports help mitigate family stress during periods of deployment.

From the Madigan Army Medical Center, Tacoma, WA.

Received December 2008; accepted April 2009.

The authors declare no conflict of interests.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Address for reprints: Eric Flake, MD, Madigan Army Medical Center, Attn: MCHJ-P Dev. Pediatrics, Tacoma, WA 98431; e-mail: or

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.