Pediatric Reflections: The Reward and Responsibility of Caring for Children in Military Families

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Children's Doctor

As patients carousel through our offices every day, I am struck by how little we often know about their lives and families. The medical questions come easily, whether we are conducting a periodic exam or tracking down the source of a fever during a “sick visit.” But, if those are the only questions we ask, we can lose an opportunity to unlock truths about the family that can greatly impact a child’s health.

For children in military families, knowledge about their home life is as important, if not more important, to their future than the medical questions we ask. And all it takes to open that door is to ask parents what they do for a living.

When parents tell me they serve in the military, I know that their family might be facing unique stressors related to a parent’s deployment or frequent moves around the country. That stress can manifest differently, from simple anxiety or loneliness when a parent is deployed to, most seriously, child abuse and neglect.

My team at PolicyLab, a research center at CHOP, has been working to identify opportunities to address child maltreatment in U.S. Army families by understanding when these children are at greatest risk surrounding a parent’s deployment and what breakdowns in communication there may be between the systems working to keep them safe.

When it comes to suspected maltreatment, all providers should know that we’re required to report to Child Protective Services (CPS). But many may not know that the military has its own welfare agency, the Family Advocacy Program (FAP), whose staff are often left unaware when we make a report to civilian CPS. This missing link is critically important because military families move frequently, often preventing a local child welfare agency from providing long-term assistance.

FAP has dedicated professionals who can help arrange prevention and treatment services for military families, no matter what installation they are on. While mandatory reporting laws often don’t include dual reporting to FAP, I urge my colleagues caring for military children to call FAP if the safety of a child becomes a concern.

Caring for military families and their children is incredibly rewarding. It’s a small measure of service for the men and women who put their lives on the line for our country. But with that reward comes the responsibility of asking the right questions and ensuring we can provide the best care and resources for their children.


Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, PolicyLab. Identifying Opportunities to Address Child Abuse and Neglect in U.S. Army Families. Accessed January 18, 2018.

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