On deployment, parental absence and fostering resilience in Service Children


Armed forces childHere is a final post to conclude a theme begun and inspired by a speaking engagement for the Service Children’s Support Network’s Annual ‘Early Years’ Conference in October 2013.

How does deployment impact upon young children, on families, on relationships? What can be done to foster greater resilience so that the much longed-for home-coming of the deployed parent is harmonious, blessed with good will and an abundance of love and affection?

We should never lose sight of the fact that our genetic inheritance is all about survival…  Robert Winston, Human Instinct, 2002

I referenced this quotation from Human Instinct in my first post and return to the theme again. Much that we are blessed with a genetic inheritance that is all about ‘survival’, actually, what we want in our children is something more than mere survival.

We need to be sure that young children impacted by deployment move from mere survival to flourishing emotionally, physically, intellectually.

Negative Impact of Pre-Deployment on Service Families

There are a barrage of problems, potential or actual, that face Service Families in the build up to deployment, that include –

  • Inattentive, persistent, non-attuned parenting
  • relationship tensions and stresses
  • increase in working hours and stress factors
  • shifting roles and responsibilities
  • dominant needs set the tone and mood for family life
  • emotional absence, preceding actual physical absence
  • taboo subjects, niggling issues, fractured relationships
  • irregularity of time at home, physical absence from family life
  • changing or reduced connections withinn the community

British Armed Forces
As a mother of a serving member of the Armed Forces, with a son about to embark on his second deployment to Afghanistan, I comment from a professional and personal perspective.

There is little that is good about the loss to deployment of a parent, (or a son or daughter), but it is a reality, and, we must not forget, a chosen way of life.

Fostering Resilience in the Build up to Deployment

  • Take time to build secure family relationships (‘Strong Families, Strong Forces’)
  • Make use of local support and community groups
  • Keep friendships alive
  • Access information to raise awareness of practical and emotional issues
  • Attend organized meetings for other families facing deployment
  • Accept social invitations from friends and family
  • Keep discussions with young children open and on-going to allay fears and concerns
  • Make use of systems to enable on-going communications
  • Use the ‘story-book’ project and other schemes to keep contact with young children
  • Put away pride and accept offers of support, company and practical help

I spoke of ‘Hidden Voices’, the views of those left behind, and the complex pyschological drama that is played out behind the scenes, by the wives and partners of those embarking on deployment.

There is a stoicism, a united front morale, that lays seige to unwelcome interference, and also makes it hard to determine, sometimes, what is the real need to be addressed here, in this family, in this community? Suffering in this context, is almost preferable to moving beyond the suffering.

Community Covenants complement at a local level the work of the Armed Forces Covenant of June 2011, and are a pledge between a civilian community and its local armed forces community of mutual support.




I am impressed by the passion and conviction of some hard-working and determined individuals to make good the Community Covenant and build or develop existing shared facilities, including community play areas, to support communities and harmonious family life. Given the relative infancy of Community Covenants, it will be good to see how these impact on fractured communities, in the coming years.

Child Trends – http://www.childtrends.org/ commissioned a study (US) entitled Home Front Alert: the Risks Facing Young Children in Military Families.

The author, David Murphey, comments that this group of children are facing numerous emotional obstacles that could develop into more serious long term issues. As many as half a million American children face the elevated risk for emotional problems, particuarly anxieity issues.

“We’re concerned that children exposed to stressful events, particularly traumatic
stressful events, will have difficulty learning to cope with emotions, to do well socially
and emotionally, and even have problems with their physical health.”
David Murphey, Home Front Alert, July 2013.
Recognising the emotional impact of prolonged stress in young children
As always, fore-warned is fore-armed and the more attuned parents and professionals can be to recognizing early warning signs that something is not quite right, the greater the opportunity to make amends.
Features of the effect of prolonged periods of stress on young children range from temporary, transitory behavioural and emotional problems, to at the extreme end of the spectrum, more complex and long-term difficulties.
Long term and complex needs –
  • Persistent fear response
  • Hyper-arousal
  • Dissociation
  • Disrupted attachment process
Short term, temporary or transitory difficulties –
  • Changes in infant behaviour
  • Increased non compliance
  • Disturbance in sleep patterns
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Increase in anxiety levels
  • Heightened sensitivity to surroundings, people, sounds
  • Nightmares and sleep terrors
  • Increased anger
  • Frequent mood changes

Conscious of seeming too bleak in my assessment of the risk factors, of Service life and the impact of deployment, I am keen to consider also the wealth of knowledge and research that has given rise to some excellent practice both in the UK and overseas, and by that, I mean, predominantly the US. From this, we may come to recognize more readily features of Service life for families, that fosters resilience, that is an on-going protective force that safe-guards children and young people.

I am impressed by the comprensive work of Martin Seligman on optimism, motivation and character. His book, “Flourish – a new understanding of happiness and well-being and how to achieve them” I have referenced often in work on emotional health and well-being.

I was not aware previously, however, that Seligman has been involved extensively with the US Military devising programmes and assessments that determine the pyschological well-being of serving soldiers and their families.

Here is a link to the Global Assessment Tool – http://csf2.army.mil/takethegat.html

The Global Assessment Tool (GAT) is a survey tool through which individuals are able to confidentially assess their physical and psychological health based on four of the five dimensions of strength: social, emotional, family, and spiritual fitness.

And here’s a further link to understanding more about the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (CSF2) – http://csf2.army.mil/about.html

Along similar models, the UK’s Help for Heroes is a charity that has at its heart a mission to inspire, enable and support wounded, sick or injured service personnel and their families. http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/

Help for Heroes

I am much taken with the guidance, knowledge and insights provided in the Help for Heroes’ Annual Report, 2012http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/how-we-help/about-us/annual-reports/ – which is far more than just the reporting of accounts and regulations. It is quite remarkable in its breadth and insight.

Help for Heroes has at its core the needs of the individual grouped into five key areas –

  1. Medical
  2. Mind
  3. Body
  4. Spirt
  5. Family

We are truly blessed to have the foresight of the founders of Help for Heroes and the on-going support of so many as this organization develops to meet the needs of a growing number of injured service personnel.

girl and father

Finally, I will end with the words of Bryn Parry, CE of Help for Heroes, in the 2012 Annual Report –

We all need to remember that those wounded in the last 10 years will still need help
in 20, 30, 40 years time and beyond…
Bryn Parry, Chief Executive’s Report, 2012



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