Connection Between Deployment of Soldiers and the Academic Performance and the General Behaviour of Children

Constant deployments have strained military personnel and families, who are already burdened by frequent moves and parental absences. These stressors include children's social or behavioral problems at home and at school. By better understanding the issues children face when parents or guardians are deployed, the Army can more effectively target services to military families and their children to meet these needs.

The Army has asked the RAND Arroyo Center to assess the impact of military deployments on the academic, emotional and behavioral performance of its children in the school environment and to make recommendations on support programs to ensure that children's academic and emotional needs are met. In some areas, efforts are already underway.

What difficulties do children face in school when their parents are disengaged?

To understand the relationship between parental deployment and academic achievement, researchers conducted statistical analyses of the relationship between parental deployment and student outcomes in North Carolina and Washington public schools between 2002 and 2008.

The analysis included school-age children of active duty military, reservists, and National Guard members. Researchers also interviewed school personnel about the challenges and support options faced by students.

The results of the study are as follows:

Children whose parents have been deployed for a total of 19 months or more since 2001 have slightly lower (and statistically different) academic outcomes compared to those whose parents were deployed for less time or not at all. This finding holds across countries and schools, is consistent regardless of the soldier's military rank or grade, age, the gender of the deployed parent, and the gender of the child, and is stable over time.

This relationship is strongest for elementary and middle school students, but is not significant for high school students. These differences in school performance suggest that children appear to have more difficulties as they become more deployed, rather than having developed resilience.

The study found no other consistent and statistically significant differences in the educational outcomes of the children in the sample. In neither country was the number of deployments associated with children's educational outcomes when the researchers considered the cumulative number of months of deployment.

Teachers and school counselors identified several placement-related problems that may affect children's academic performance. These included problems with homework completion, school commitments, and parental involvement, as well as homework-related stress or stay-at-home parents' mental or emotional problems associated with a peer placement.

School personnel had little consistent information about which students were soldiers and when they could be deployed. These difficulties were sometimes greater for teachers serving Reserve and National Guard families, as these students are often a small minority in their schools.

Key points

  • Children whose parents were deployed 19 months or more after 2001 have slightly worse (and statistically different) academic outcomes than children whose parents were deployed for shorter periods or not at all.
  • Teachers and school counselors have identified a number of placement-related issues that can affect children's educational outcomes, such as homework completion, class attendance, and parental involvement.
  • To improve support for children, additional resources can be provided to help students with homework, improve communication with schools, and increase the number of providers trained in child and adolescent behavioral health.

What psychological and behavioral health issues do families face during a deployment?

Interviewees also identified barriers to providing mental health services to military children.

School staff noted that parental difficulties are an issue for youth. Staff felt that some parents seem to have more difficulty finding placement than their children. Staff also reported that the resilience of many children appears to be deteriorating. Some staff feel that they often do not receive enough support to help students and parents access mental and behavioral health services. Military family life counselors can provide needed support to students, families, and school staff, but interviewees felt that monitoring and evaluation of this program could be improved.

According to stakeholders, the number of service providers trained in child and youth services is low. In addition, the availability and coverage of some behavioral health and prevention, screening, and early intervention services are insufficient and vary by region. Stakeholders also noted that some providers are not aware of the military culture.


Improving support is an ongoing process. Arroyo researchers identified several options that the military could consider to address the challenges soldiers face in placing parents. Because most of these recommendations involve financial costs, the Army should carefully analyze these costs before making changes.

Academic and schooling needs

  • Provide additional resources to assist students with homework and school activities and develop procedures for schools to obtain support from the military community to engage unresponsive parents.
  • Address the challenges of high mobility, for example, by continuing to fully implement the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children, which addresses national disparities in information transfer, course offerings, and graduation requirements.
  • Developing methods to inform schools about military children, their parents' deployment, and the supports and services available to military families.

Behavioral Health Needs

  • Support efforts to increase the number of providers trained in mental health issues for children and youth and expand provider training on military culture and the effects of deployment.
  • Develop models to improve access to hard-to-reach populations, including telepsychiatry programs and social networks to support reservist families.
  • Consider strategies to improve prevention, screening, and early identification of mental health problems, especially in schools and other community settings, and improve family involvement in mental health service delivery.
  • Provide information that school personnel can use to help students and parents access services.
    Improve evaluation of the MFLC program by incorporating outcome-based measures.

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