A systematic review of wellbeing in children: a comparison of military and civilian families

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Background: Children in military families have uniquely different childhood experiences compared to their civilian peers, including a parent in employment and a stable familial income, frequent relocations, indirect exposure to and awareness of conflict, and extended separation from parents or siblings due to deployment. However, whether children from military families have poorer wellbeing than non-military connected children is not well understood.
Method: We conducted a systematic review to explore the relationship between military family membership (e.g. parent or sibling in the military) and child wellbeing compared to non-military connected controls. Searches for this review were conducted in September 2016 and then updated in February 2018.
Results: Nine studies were identified, eight were cross-sectional. All studies utilised self-report measures administered in U.S. school settings. On the whole, military connected youth were not found to have poorer wellbeing than civilian children, although those with deployed parents and older military connected children were at greater risk of some adjustment difficulties (e.g. substance use, externalising behaviour). Although only assessed in two studies, having a sibling in the military and experiencing sibling deployment was statistically significantly associated with substance use and depressive symptoms.
Conclusions: This study is unique in its direct comparison of military and non-military connected youth. Our results highlight the need to examine the impact of military service in siblings and other close relatives on child wellbeing. Given the adverse impact of poor mental health on child functioning, additional research is needed ensure appropriate, evidence-based interventions are available for youth in military families.
Original languageEnglish
JournalChild and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health
Issue number46
Early online date7 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2018


  • Child
  • Parent
  • Sibling
  • Mental health
  • military
  • systematic review
  • wellbeing


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