Study Highlights Importance of Parenting Interventions for Veterans' and their Children's Health
Current and recent military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed considerable strain on Veterans and their families. Approximately 20% of returning Veterans report some type of mental health difficulty (e.g., PTSD, depression) upon return or shortly thereafter, and these mental health problems may increase over time. Veterans currently enrolling in the VA healthcare system tend to be relatively young, and are likely to have similar demographics to the current active duty military population, where approximately 43% have children, and approximately 58% of these children are age eight or younger. This study reviewed the literature to examine the links between deployment, child mental health, and Veteran mental health. Using an example treatment, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), investigators also outline the components needed to make a parenting intervention most useful to Veterans – and propose research directions which would lay the necessary groundwork for large-scale provision of this type of treatment for Veterans.
Deployment has the potential to negatively affect Veterans' children's psychological functioning, as well as Veterans' parenting abilities. For example, deployment appears to increase the risk of more severe parenting problems such as child maltreatment. The rate of child abuse in military families has been shown to increase following soldiers' return from deployment, as compared to levels both before and during deployment.
Child behavior problems and parent-child relationship difficulties can have a negative impact on the Veteran's own outcomes. Therefore, treatment to help Veterans with parenting skills, in addition to promoting their children's mental health, may be vital to the Veteran's recovery.
The literature indicates that many currently returning Veterans may benefit from parenting interventions to aid their own recovery. PCIT is an example of an intervention with several features that make it highly amenable for use with this population, including a treatment focus on the parent, a strong focus on parent-child attachment, and a record of adaptability for use with a variety of populations. However, some additional steps are needed to overcome barriers to its implementation:
- Acquiring funds to train staff and equip facilities to provide parenting treatment; and
- Through research, determining how military and Veteran cultural norms would impact the acceptability of such a treatment. For example, some Veterans may have difficulty accepting the idea of reducing commands and letting the child lead the interaction, as well as reinforcing positive behavior instead of correcting negative behavior.
Dr. Owen is part of HSR&D's Center for Mental Healthcare & Outcomes Research, North Little Rock, AR; he also co-leads VA/HSR&D's Mental Health Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (MH-QUERI)
Pemberton J, Kramer T, Borrego J, and Owen R. Kids at the VA? A Call for Evidence-Based Parenting Interventions for Returning Veterans. Psychological Services May 2013;10(2):194-202.