A research summary on the effects of deployment on military children. Funded by the FCT

cityoflondonResearch Study: Feedback Summary.


“The welfare, emotional wellbeing and support needs of primary school service children and their families separated during active service”


The FCT has provided financial sponsorship to a research study investigating the emotional well being and support needs of service through operational deployments. The following provides a brief outline of the aims, findings and outcomes.

D Psych Research Study: The emotional well-being and support needs of children during periods of operational deployment.

Understanding the challenges and support needs of service children and their families through periods of military deployment is vital in providing appropriate, timely and evidence based support interventions. This is essential at times of combat deployments which are not only associated with the extended period of parental absence, but the increased risk of safety to the child’s deployed parent and the wider support needs of bereaved families and families affected by traumatic injuries. This study aimed to investigate the experiences of primary school children through periods of training and combat deployments in order to identify support needs.

The following provides a brief overview of the findings and further information can be accessed via the contact details below.


The psychological health and emotional wellbeing of two groups of children aged 8- 11 was assessed, monitored and compared using validated psychological measures whilst their father (Army) was away on either mass training or combat deployment to Afghanistan in the period 2011 to 2012. Child, teacher and parent assessments were completed on 52 children at pre, mid and post deployment


Teacher and parent ratings of children’s behavioural difficulties and emotional wellbeing at home and school at each stage of deployment were not significantly different from rates found in the general population. Children in both groups rated very few emotional difficulties associated with depressive symptoms at each stage of deployment and over 60% of children had levels of self esteem which fell in the average/high average range.

Of concern children reported high levels of anxiety above community norms at each stage of deployment. This was especially high in the build up to parental deployment to Afghanistan. Children reported worries about the safety of their deployed parent and fears relating to attack, being blown up and injury. Children additionally had specific worries relating to separation, e.g. sleeping independently and feeling apprehensive when away from their parent at home.


At times of multiple deployments associated with high risk, closer monitoring by school and health services is needed to help identify children who are experiencing high levels of worry. Developing skills that enable children to reduce internal distress and supporting parents at home in this process may help to greatly reduce levels of child anxiety through periods of deployment. Support interventions which usefully employ cognitive behavioural techniques and promote positive coping are most likely to be effective. The coordination of support services between schools, parents, school psychological services, community support services and military welfare is crucial in the provision of appropriate support and follow up.

It is hoped that these findings will enable a better understanding of the experiences and welfare of children through difficult and sensitive times and that through emphasizing the needs of children, more opportunities will be provided at school and at home for children to voice their fears, ask questions and express their worries through times of combat deployment. The value of clarifying children’s concerns, discussing the risks of combat and putting these into context can help to relieve anxiety. The value of listening and talking to children is emphasised throughout the deployment phase.

Dr Sharon Pexton C Psychol.

Clinical Psychologist (HPC)

This study was completed as part of the D Psych Programme (Post Chartered, Clinical Psychology) Department of Psychology, City University London. Journal article is in submission. Sharon.pexton.1@city.ac.uk

Ethics approval was granted by City University and the Ministry of Defence Research Ethics Committee. The findings have been discussed with the Directorate, Children and Young People, Ministry of Defence. (DCYP, MoD)

Research supervisors: Professor William Yule, Emeritus Professor of Applied Child Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London. Dr Jacqui Farrants, Department of Psychology. City University, London.