52,000 Children are Hidden Casualties of War
Over the past decade, thousands of wounded service members have returned home from war, only to struggle to adapt to new lives at home. A new study reveals that their 52,000 children are a highly impacted, but often overlooked, segment of the population directly affected by war.
The newly released “Study on Children of Seriously Wounded Service Members”, commissioned by the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation and conducted by the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research at the University of San Diego, offers a first-time look at the current roadblocks that hinder children of seriously wounded service members from reaching their full potential – including challenging trends that can have a significant impact on their social and psychological development.
While we understand the serious and long-term impacts of combat wounds on veterans, the impact on their families – particularly their young children – has never been studied in such detail.
Five trends prevailed from the study that impact this segment of ‘hidden casualties’:
When not addressed, these challenges can have a lasting impact on children’s social, emotional, and academic development. While hundreds of organizations exist to support seriously wounded service members, too few of these resources focus on the children – who have sacrificed through their parent’s service and largely gone unnoticed.
No single organization can successfully meet all needs of the families of the severely wounded; instead, several focused programs need to hone in on the needs of each member within the family. Below are recommendations for resources, programs and services to more effectively address the unique challenges and needs of this underserved community.
- Develop long-term family resiliency programs that don’t just address immediate needs, but support families’ futures: Many of those interviewed emphasized the need for ongoing family education and training on grief, loss, and PTSD.
- Provide opportunities for peer-to-peer social support for children and develop online communities to facilitate interaction. Peer-to-peer support is lacking, particularly for teens and pre-teens, and should be hosted online to allow children in rural areas to connect with their peers nationwide.
- Offer mentoring and “healthy parenting” programs for parents. Parents particularly cited a need for programs that teach them how to best communicate with children to help them manage stress and change.
- Communicate with families at the right time, in the right way. Sharing resources with families “after the dust has settled” and when they are in a day-to-day routine is critical. This allows parents to focus on the needs of children and on long-range planning.
- Develop a central database of available support in local areas, which would help connect resource-starved families in rural communities and help families easily find the most relevant opportunities.
The Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation and the Caster Center thank our partner organizations for their support of the study. We are also grateful to all of the nonprofit organizations, military personnel, and families who graciously participated in interviews and focus groups.
- Fisher House Foundation
- Gary Sinise Foundation
- The National Intrepid Center of Excellence
- National Military Family Association
- Operation Homefront
- Semper Fi Fund
- SemperMax Support Fund
- Wounded Warrior Project
About the Study: Over the course of one year, researchers from The Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research at the University of San Diego interviewed a total of 125 participants, including seriously wounded service members, their spouses and children, as well as military, civilian and nonprofit professionals who work with this population. The study included two phases to ensure a comprehensive understanding around the population and its unfulfilled needs: The first phase focused on understanding the specific needs of children of seriously wounded service members through interviews and reviews of existing research; the second phase focused on an assessment of government and non-profit programs available to identify gaps that exist.