Being a child is tough. Figuring out the world around you and who you are is no easy task. Being a military child is all that plus dealing with frequent moves, starting from scratch and spending significant time away from one or more parent.
Military children face a unique set of challenges when compared to their friends or even to their parents. To honour the sacrifices of the children of the military community, April is recognized as Month of the Military Child.
The month of the Military Child was first established in 1986 by Caspar Weinberger, U.S. Secretary of Defence. Though more significantly celebrated in the U.S., this special month is starting to gain traction in Canada. Some MFRCs are hosting special events to honour the children in their community.
According to the Vanier Institute of the Family, 75 per cent of military couples have children, and there are currently 500,000 children of military members or veterans. The average serving member spends 25 per cent of the time away from home.
These statistics indicate that many military families do face trying times, more significantly impacting military children. Separation and relocation play a major role in these challenges.
The 2013 Ombudsman of National Defence Report, On The Homefront, acknowledged that relocation has a tremendous impact on a child’s schooling.
“There is scientific research reinforcing the theory that military children in schools populated by military and civilian children can often feel isolated and ostracized, in part because their experiences are not well understood by educators and peers. This was strongly corroborated by many of the military families interviewed,” stated the report.
In certain cases, it can also affect the child’s education, and many children are forced to play catch-up.
Separation from a deployed parent was also indicated as being a significant event in a military child’s life.
“From a health perspective, children of deployed military members were found to experience physical issues, including increased stress, sleeping problems and more than double the rate of occurrence of other ailments compared to similar children within the civilian population. Families and providers/supporters repeatedly conveyed situations of healthy children becoming sick during deployments,” stated the Ombudsman’s report.
The report also found that once a parent returns from the deployment, it can take a considerable length of time for families to return back to a pre-deployment state and relationships. Sometimes, these conditions can be exaggerated when a returning parent is diagnosed with PTSD.
These challenges have not gone unnoticed by the Canadian Armed Forces. Military leadership and organizations are pulling together to address the needs of children. Resources are available on a range of topics from tips on how to support young children during deployments to finding appropriate mental health services, if needed.
Despite the statistics and challenges, the children of our military community continue to flourish and succeed. That fact and their sacrifices deserve a moment of reflection to honour the boys and girls of the military community.
Help us to celebrate Month of the Military Child. If you know a military child that is making a difference in the community, please reach out to us- we would love to feature them in this month’s profile series.