One of the largest subcultures in America is also one of the least visible. Military children and families are everywhere–not just on or near installations. To illustrate, only a handful of counties across the continental United States had not sent Guard and Reserve members to Iraq or Afghanistan by 2011. Even though these families are everywhere, they often do not stand out. Military children do not wear uniforms. We need to develop a community-based model, to increase resilience and minimize health risks among military children.
In the Future of Children, Harold Kudler and Colonel Rebecca I. Porter (U.S. Army) explain that communities of care “extend the responsibility for developing [an] environment of respect and positive expectations from the clinic to the community.” With a shortage of mental health professionals, especially in rural areas, it is imperative to intervene at the community level. In order to make communities of care happen, the first step is identification–every clinical program should routinely ask everyone who enters its system, “Have you or has someone close to you served in the military?”, and all clinical staff should be taught about military culture and deployment mental health. A next step is to flag military family status in education, employment, and medical records so that it is not overlooked and tailored support can be offered across time. Also, health-care programs and insurance companies could offer incentives to providers to take military history as a way to improve health outcomes and perhaps reduce costs through better treatment. Additionally, clinical programs competent in working with military families should register their names and basic information in the National Resource Directory to help increase accessibility to community resources.
As Kudler and Porter note, perhaps “the secret of creating communities of care for military children is creating communities that care about military children.” To learn more see the Future of Children issue on Military Children and Families.