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Study to focus on how deployments affect children

WASHINGTON -- Although much attention has been paid to the physical and mental toll that military deployments place on servicemembers, a new pilot study conducted by the University of Houston will probe into how their families are also negatively impacted by lengthy separations from a parent deployed overseas.

Over the past decade, more than 2 million U.S. military servicemembers have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Nearly an equal number of children have had to cope with the resulting disruptions to family life, said Candice Alfano, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Houston, who is leading the study.

“These families have endured lengthy separations, multiple relocations and disruption in family routines, but we know very little how these unique stressors impact children,” she said.

The study, “Risk and Resilience in Military Families,” will examine how deployments affect parenting styles, family and peer relationships, changes in children’s sleep patterns, and why some children are able to better cope with deployments than others.

It will build on the limited research on this topic. “There are only a handful of studies on how families are affected by deployments, and their results have been mixed,” Alfano said.

So far, those studies indicate that these children have a higher incidence of anxiety and depression, but it’s still not known, for instance, whether those conditions improve upon the deployed parent’s return, which the study will try to answer, she said.

This study also will try to cast “a wide net” by collecting information from every family member, including servicemembers, their partners or spouses, and their children age 7 and over. Previous research, by contrast, has been based on reports collected solely from parents, teachers or caregivers, she said.

Researchers are inviting military families with a parent who has been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan -- and have at least one child between the ages of 2 and 17 -- to participate in the study. They will be asked to complete confidential questionnaires by mail.

No in-person visits are required, and each family member will receive a $10 gift card for their participation. To learn more about the study, call Jessica Balderas at 713-743-3400 or email sack@uh.edu.

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