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When a parent comes home from war

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How may it affect a child to have a parent away on international military service – or when a parent comes home from war and is marked by the experience? This subject has only been sparsely researched internationally. A new collaborative project between SFI and the Danish Veteran Centre will shed light on the lives of the children of Danish veterans using registers, interviews and systematic comparisons with children in general.

Who are the Danish children, whose mother or father has served in international military operations for Denmark in the last 20 years? How many are there, and how do they handle the experiences their parents bring home from abroad?

These are some of the central questions in a new Danish research project being carried out in collaboration between SFI and the Danish Veteran Centre.

“Both in Denmark and internationally, there is a growing focus on helping families of soldiers to get through the process of sending a loved one abroad, for instance by establishing support networks both during and after the deployment – but there is very little research knowledge on the consequences of international military service for families and especially for children,” explains Helene Oldrup, sociologist and researcher at SFI, and head of the project.

Registers, questionnaires and interviews

The project encompasses all children of Danish veterans, both those old enough to remember the deployment and those born after it took place. To gain knowledge about the children, the researchers will use both qualitative and quantitative data, and in the latter make use of the extensive public registers in Denmark.

Drawing on military records of all the soldiers deployed on international military service between 1992 and 2013, the researchers will identify the children and access data from Statistics Denmark about their family relations, education, health and contact with the social services.

The research team will also conduct a survey among 1500 of the children and their primary carer, asking them about their everyday life and wellbeing. Data from the questionnaires will be comparable to data from the longitudinal study, Children and Young People in Denmark, allowing the researchers to compare children of veterans with Danish children generally. In addition to this, 15-20 qualitative interviews will be conducted with the children and their parents.

Hypothesis

Previous research, primarily from the US, has indicated that the children of veterans have poorer mental health, more problems at school and other signs of poor wellbeing. The Danish research team is working on the hypothesis that some – but far from all – Danish children of veterans suffer some negative consequences from their parents’ reactions to deployment.

“Many factors indicate, perhaps not surprisingly, that the children’s reaction depends on the parent’s reaction to the experiences they bring home from the field,” says Helene Oldrup, and continues:

“We know from previous Danish research that many Danish veterans go on to lead happy and productive lives after returning home, but that approximately 4% are diagnosed with PTSD in the years following deployment. Our hypothesis is that there is a grey area in between these two groups of veterans who may suffer short-term problems, such as poor sleep patterns, heightened sense of stress etc. – and whose behaviour may affect their children.”

The results of the project will be published in 2017, including both a report and a number of peer-reviewed articles.

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