By Joyce Raezer, Executive Director of the National Military Family Association and Steve Schwab, Executive Director of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation
Military kids serve, too! We believe it so strongly, it has become a rallying cry. We know military kids often become caregivers during deployments. They take care of younger siblings, worry about how mom is doing while dad is deployed, and take on extra chores. But, most of our thinking about military kids and caregiving has been in the context of a deployment—which has an end date—not in the context of an injury. Families with wounded servicemembers and veterans have children facing a new set of responsibilities that they will carry with them through childhood and beyond.
The weight of caregiving is often too much for grown-ups to bear… so how is being a caregiver impacting our littlest heroes? The sad answer is: we don’t know. And that’s not ok. RAND estimates that there are 5.5 million military caregivers in America. So, we can expect that the children of these caregivers number in the millions too.
This week, the National Military Family Association and Elizabeth Dole Foundation hosted many of the leading organizations caring for military families in a day-long discussion to figure out exactly what needs to be done to help caregiver children. Adult caregivers and moms talked about their struggles to manage existing priorities: their children, their wounded veteran or service member, medical appointments and self-care. Family dynamics suffer and roles are blurred. Children often grow up too fast.
We know that stress physically impacts a person’s well-being. And studies show a parent’s stress trickles down to their children. We owe it to our military and veteran kids to understand how the stress and responsibility of caregiving affects them throughout every developmental stage and what we can do to ease the burden.
Together, the organizations that attended the forum agreed to act as a united voice and force for change to help caregiver children.
Together, we will find a way to embark on the necessary research to better understand what it means to be a caregiver kid.
Together, we committed to work together to change policy and programs for caregiver children and their families.
Together, we committed to raise awareness and understanding throughout communities of the issues faced by caregiver children and their families
Together, we pledged to modify existing programs and create new ones specifically designed to care for the children of military and veteran caregivers.
The National Military Family Association and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation together vow to stay committed to this meaningful work and keep the momentum going. We will make sure the grown-ups of the world see that the children of those caring for our wounded, ill, or injured service members are caregivers with unique needs… and they deserve better support. We are committed to creating strength and resiliency in our caregiving families—for kids and their parents.