Staff Perspective: Highlights from “What We Know about Military Family Readiness: Evidence from 2007-2017”

Staff Perspective: Highlights from “What We Know about Military Family Readiness: Evidence from 2007-2017”

Marjorie Weinstock, Ph.D.

A lot has been written on the importance of promoting readiness in the military population, but this concept of “readiness” can be applied to military families as well. It is important that military family members are prepared to meet the challenges that accompany military life, which in turn, helps to ensure that their Service members can be “mission ready.”

In March of 2018, “What We Know about Military Family Readiness: Evidence from 2007-2017” was published, which summarized the literature on military family readiness from the past 10 years. In this literature review, family readiness was defined as “the state of being prepared to effectively navigate the challenges of daily living experienced in the unique context of military service” (p.8). Ready (or resilient) families were thus defined as those that have:

  • An awareness of the possible challenges they may face,
  • The skills to function well in the face of those challenges,
  • Knowledge of the resources available to them, and
  • The ability to utilize those supports to manage stressful experiences.

Qualitative analyses indicated 16 different areas of military family readiness:

1) Adult physical health includes factors related to the physical health of both Service members and spouses, such as general physical health, illness, injury, and pain.

2) Adult mental health includes factors related to the mental health of Service members and spouses, such as depression, anxiety, anger, and stress.

3) Adult social support encompasses the availability and accessibility of both formal and informal social resources and support.

4) Children’s functioning covers all aspects of military children’s lives, including physical health, mental health, adaptability, and reactions to challenges.

5) Spouse functioning includes things related to spouses’ personal development and adaptation to military experiences (e.g., overall coping, sense of identity, day-to-day well-being).

6) Marital quality encompasses various marital relationship characteristics, such as satisfaction, commitment, and communication.

7) Severe family & marital distress includes issues such as divorce, infidelity, abuse, and maltreatment.

8) Service members’ deployment-related experiences focuses on the experiences and functioning of Service members during their deployments that are explicitly related to family readiness (e.g., the impact of combat exposure on family functioning).

9) Service members’ reintegration experiences focuses on the experiences and functioning of Service members after deployment.

10) Spouses’ experiences during deployment focuses on the experiences and functioning of military spouses during their Service members’ deployments, such as their physical and/or mental health, social support, parenting, and daily routines.

11) Spouses’ reintegration experiences focuses on spouses’ well-being and functioning after their Service members return from deployment.

12) Children’s experiences during parental deployment & reintegration centers on the things that children face both during a parent’s deployment and after their return (e.g., physical/ mental health, behavioral issues, coping, academic issues).

13) Parenting & family functioning encompasses interpersonal dynamics and relationships between individuals in families.

14) Finances & spouse employment includes issues related to family finances and to spouse employment, such as barriers to spouse employment.

15) Military life experiences covers the unique situations military families face (e.g., frequent relocation) and the impact of these experiences on family members.

16) Accessibility of military services includes the availability and accessibility of programs and services available to military-connected families.

Some of the key takeaways from this report are:

  • Social support is vital for healthy coping and resilience of Service members, spouses, and children. This is especially salient in the context of one of the major normative military life stressors – relocation. One of the challenges for military families is creating new social networks each time they move, but this report indicates that accessing and utilizing sources of support (whether they’re formal or informal) can help to promote well-being and readiness. This is particularly true for military children, as we know that relocation is stressor that is related to decreased well-being for them across multiple domains (e.g., home, school).
  • Marriage can be a protective factor for all military family members, including children. Positive marital quality was related to multiple healthy outcomes for military families, such as lower levels of stress and increased well-being. Thus, marital quality is an important target when providing support to military families (e.g., providing programs that enhance marital quality and stability).
  • Holding a lower rank was related to poorer well-being for family members. One possible reason for this association may be that junior Service members are younger, have less training, and have less time and experience in the military. These Service members may benefit from additional support to promote resilience in their families. Relatedly, it is important to think about ways to reduce barriers to access and participation for these families.
  • Family support was related to better mental health for all family members. Similarly, parental mental health was a critical factor in the well-being of children. These findings indicate that family members are interdependent and can affect one another significantly. Thus, services and programs that include all family members and/or view the family as a whole may benefits the entire family. It’s recommended that whenever possible, providers strive to involve spouses and children when working with Service members, and relatedly, services focused on children should incorporate components for parents.

This is just a small snapshot of the information included in this report. I encourage you to take a look for yourselves!

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

LMarjorie Weinstock, Ph.D., is a Senior Military Behavioral Health Psychologist at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences (USU) in Bethesda, Maryland.

Hawkins, S. A., Condon, A., Hawkins, J. N., Liu, K., Ramirez, Y. M. Nihill, M. M., & Tolins, J. (2018). What we know about military families: Evidence from 2007-2017. Research Facilitation Laboratory, Army Analytics Group, Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of the Army.