SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Just like their parents, military children reflect the diversity of the United States. And each is unique in his or her own way. Some are barefoot and bookish. Some are adventurous and artistic. Some are musical and mischievous. And some have special needs.
Parenting a child with special needs is not all that unusual. In the United States, an estimated 20 percent of children have some type of special health care need, which can range from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to cancer. A "special need" is a chronic medical condition that requires health care and related services beyond what is typical.
While having a special needs child may not be unusual, raising a child with a long-term medical condition can be more difficult, costly, time-consuming, and stressful than raising one without special needs. Caring for a special needs child can be challenging for any parent, but may be even more so for military parents who also have to manage the demands of the military lifestyle, including deployments and frequent relocations.
One way of supporting special needs military parents is through research. At the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC), our mission is to optimize the health and readiness of service members. This means our research portfolio includes studies that focus on military families and the impact they have on service member readiness.
A study led by NHRC's Health and Behavioral Sciences department is currently examining the career and health trajectories of active duty personnel who parent children with special health care needs.
Researchers collected data from the Career History Archival Medical and Personnel System (CHAMPS), a database at NHRC with records for over 10 million service members. They merged this data with information from the Department of Defense Birth and Infant Health Research (BIHR) program, an NHRC-led program designed to monitor the health of infants born to military families.
The total study population consisted of over 1.9 million service members. Using BIHR, the researchers identified children born between 2007 and 2009 to active duty military families and conducted further analysis to identify those children with special health care needs. By combining the data from BIHR with CHAMPS data, researchers identified the active duty parents of those special needs children and tracked their medical and career outcomes for 5 to 7 years after the child's birth.
Preliminary results for military career trajectories indicate that military parents who care for children with special health care needs were more likely to remain in the military compared to military parents without special needs children. This initial finding is just the beginning. NHRC researchers are continuing to examine the large dataset they collected and anticipate that further analysis will provide more information about the career outcomes of military parents with special needs children, including common types of discharges and rates of attrition.
In addition to ongoing research at NHRC, there will be a new breakout session at the upcoming 2018 Military Health System Research Symposium that focuses on the health and readiness of military families. Researchers throughout military medicine will come together to discuss the military family system-how to define it, how family health and readiness can positively impact service members, and how to provide support to bolster the resilience of military families.
Improving military readiness means researching all facets of a service member's life. This includes the military family system and the parent-child dynamic-facets that can positively impact the health and readiness of individual military personnel. By working together, military researchers can build a deeper understanding of the relationships between military families and the health and readiness of our active duty force.
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