During the month of April we celebrate the Month of the Military Child, their resilience, their strength and the many obstacles they overcome when having a parent (or two!) in the military. Along with the usual challenges of packing and unpacking a home, changing schools, and acclimating to a new environment, so many other facets of life are heavily impacted.
Military families face the same challenges others across America face with the added complexities of a military lifestyle. In the last few years there have been many small steps that have incrementally improved maternal health care and parental leave while still in many instances taking several steps back in the implementation. In 2021, congress passed the Protecting Moms Who Served Act to better prenatal care for Veterans to ensure that there are community services to support Veterans during the prenatal and postpartum period. Meanwhile, military families in some areas are scrambling to receive adequate care as a result of changes to military healthcare initiated by the Defense Health Agency in 2017. In some cases, families must travel hours for care or simply wait weeks and weeks to be seen at all. However, huge strides have been made in parental leave over the last few years and by the year’s end all caregivers will receive 12 weeks of parental leave. And yes, this would be in addition to the 6 weeks of convalescent leave given to recover from the birth of a child.
Whether for a new baby or older children, child care is one of the most stressful services that families seek out. We often see families applying for child care long before the birth of a child, but the added complexities of long work days, irregular schedules and moving can make finding care impossible. Yes, there is child care offered for families on military installations, but those child care centers have not been immune to the staffing shortages plaguing families outside of the military. When I decided to return to work, I was surprised at exactly how difficult it was to find child care, and was lucky to have my husband fill the gap while things slowly fell into place. Aside from Covid and the general decline in care workers in the field, families are relegated to a wait list with a priority order of single-parent servicemembers and dual-military families, Active duty Service members with full-time working spouses, Active duty Service members with part-time working spouses, followed by those with spouses in school, unemployed spouses, and then everyone else that qualifies for military child care. Now imagine receiving last minute orders and starting all over again, in a city you’re not familiar with and potentially have no contacts. Military families are being put in an impossible situation, but robust investments in early learning could help alleviate these supply issues.
On top of all of these challenges, so many military families also struggle with food insecurity. Nearly every military base has a food pantry, many families regularly use WIC benefits (offices are available overseas as well), and unfortunately, even though thousands of military families use SNAP benefits, many that very much need the help do not qualify due to the calculating housing allowance and other benefits as income. On social media groups families regularly ask for a few things to get by until the next payday and over the last year some installations hosted food drives that had lines so long the food ran out long before the car line did. Families also know that they can usually reach out to the Chaplain for a commissary gift card in a pinch.
All of these issues deeply affect military families, and especially the children. The stress, understandably, trickles down. However, these kids truly are resilient. They are sad to see their friends move away yet excited to meet the new ones that move in. They spend time away from extended family and sometimes a parent, but are well-versed in time zones. They may travel the country or even the globe and have experiences many adults could only dream of. Like the dandelion that represents them they overcome most any obstacle and bloom where they are planted.