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No evidence active service impacts well-being of children from military families

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New research finds that fathers deployed in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are no more likely to have children with emotional and behavioural difficulties than fathers who did not deploy.  However, children whose fathers show signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are more likely to have difficulties.  

The findings come from a new study by King’s College London researchers, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, which is the first to examine the social and emotional well-being of children whose fathers who have seen active service in the UK armed forces.

Little is known about how military service impacts the children of military fathers, or the repercussions on the family when fathers develop PTSD. Interest in the impact of service personnel’s PTSD on their children arose after the Vietnam war, and research in the US has suggested paternal deployment could negatively affect children. 

Study participants were drawn from the long running King’s Centre for Military Health Research cohort study which follows UK service personnel deployed to the recent Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Over 600 fathers who had children aged 3–16 years were asked about their children, with the results confirmed by mothers where possible.

Researchers looked for a range of issues in the behaviour and well-being of children, finding none that were significantly associated with deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan. However, fathers who were considered likely to have PTSD were more likely to report having children with hyperactivity. This finding was limited to boys and those under 11 years of age.

Father’s PTSD was also associated with social difficulties such as being inconsiderate or unkind to others, but this association was not statistically significant after other factors were taken into account. Unlike boys, there were no associations between fathers with PTSD and any emotional and behavioural difficulties for girls. 

Lead author Professor Nicola Fear from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) said: ‘It may be that boys are more susceptible to the influence of fathers with mental health issues than girls, and boys may be more affected when their fathers do not engage with them.’

While rates of PTSD among service personnel in the UK are relatively low at around 4-6%, previous research points towards reasons why PTSD can cause problems in families. Symptoms of numbing and avoidance may create barriers to communication in families, diminishing a father’s capacity to seek out and enjoy interaction with his children.

 ‘Children whose fathers have PTSD may miss out on positive role modelling, and this is especially important for boys who look to their fathers when learning about social behaviours,’ says Professor Fear. ‘There is encouraging work being done on interventions to improve parenting in military families where there is PTSD.’


Paper reference

‘Impact of paternal deployment to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and paternal post-traumatic stress disorder on the children of military fathers’, Fear et alBritish Journal of PsychiatryDOI: 10.1192/bjp.2017.16



For further media information please contact Robin Bisson, Senior Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, / +44 20 7848 5377 / +44 7718 697176.