Behavior Problems of Children with Deployed versus Non-deployed Navy Mothers

Increasing proportions of military personnel are women, including over 20% of new recruits. Many of these women have children. Although previous studies have assessed the effects of fathers’ deployment on children, Michelle Kelley, Ellen Hock, and colleagues have reported one of the first systematic assessments of problems reported for children who experienced lengthy separations while their mothers were deployed at sea. Kelley et al. compared ratings on the preschool and school-age CBCLs from Navy mothers and caregivers of children whose mothers were deployed for 5 to 6 months versus children of nondeployed Navy mothers. CBCL ratings were also obtained from civilian mothers who were demographically similar to the Navy mothers. CBCLs were completed twice, at intervals of 8 to 9 months for Navy mothers and 1 year for civilian mothers. Both the mothers’ and caregivers’ CBCL ratings showed slightly but significantly higher Internalizing scores for the children of deployed Navy mothers than for the other two groups. Although all the mean scores were well within the normal range, a significantly higher proportion of the children of deployed mothers than of nondeployed or civilian mothers obtained Internalizing scores in the clinical range. In addition, children of deployed mothers obtained significantly higher Externalizing scores than children of nondeployed mothers, although the proportion of children scoring in the clinical range did not differ significantly. Kelley et al. also found a small but significant correlation between the number of days mothers were away from their children during the previous year and Internalizing scores. The authors concluded that “very young children with deployed parents may be susceptible to anxiety and sadness. Because both deployed Navy mothers and their child care providers reported this pattern (as measured by CBCL Internalizing scores), cognitive distortion on the part of the mother appears to be an unlikely explanation” (p. 469).

Reference: Kelley, M. L., Hock, E., Smith, K.M., Jarvis, M.S., Bonney, J.F., & Gaffney, M.A. (2001). Internalizing and Externalizing behavior of children with enlisted Navy mothers experiencing military-induced separation. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40, 464-471.