Deployment: What is it and What it Means for the Families you Serve

As we know, and research shows, “military parents of children with disabilities experience additional stress compared to those military parents with typically developing children. This can be attributed to the increase in time and resources that are needed in the daily care of a child with a disability” (Russo & Fallon, 2001). 

Deployment is defined as the movement of troops or equipment to a place or position for military action. More than two million U.S. service members have deployed over the last decade, with 50% of those individuals having deployed multiple times. The average length of deployments is from approximately 4 to 15 months depending on the branch of service and timing of deployment. Another factor to consider is the type of deployment.  Families with a service member who is deployed to a combat zone have a different experience from families experiencing “regular” or routine deployments. The type of military deployments a family experiences depends on the branch of service and the service member’s job specialty. The length of a deployment can vary widely, depending on the branch of service and mission. As you can imagine, deployment puts additional stress on a family, especially a family who has a child with a disability.  So, what can Parent Center staff do to help military families in which a parent is deployed?  

First, become familiar with military families and their needs. A family with a service member who is going on deployment has a lot of decisions to make. For example, how will they “fill the gap” when one parent is gone for extended periods of time? Are there natural supports that can fill those gaps? Some military families are lucky enough to have family close by; however, most of them will have to build a support system at each duty station. Parent Centers can help military families build those support systems in the new duty station, especially if the family is at the duty station due to deployment! Parent Centers can help families find support groups, provide community resources, connect families with services, share information about the area, and get them on email distribution lists for trainings and other events. Free non-medical counseling is available to military service members and their families through the Military Family and Life Counselors (MFLC).They are trained to work with the military community and provide support during deployments. Some MFLCs even work from local schools with large populations of military connected families.  

Some military spouses may opt to move back to areas where they can have family close by to help while the service member is deployed. Parent centers working with a family who makes this decision can connect them with the parent center in the state to which they will be moving.

Military Sources of Support 

Military families who have children with special needs are frequently connected with either the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), Family Support Staff or the School Liaison Officer (SLO). One important way that the EFMP and SLO can serve their families is by providing the contact information for your Parent Center! You may want to consider providing them with information about Parent Center’s programs and events.  

The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) is a program that helps military dependents with special needs. The EFMP staff can help military families coordinate military-connected services, including respite care and support services. 

The School Liaison Officer (SLO) is the installation point of contact for all school-related issues. They are a great resource for information, resources, and referrals. School Liaison Officers have a unique understanding of military family life. 

Military families may experience financial hardship during deployments. Pay fluctuates and errors can take time to correct when service members are deployed. The military has organizations that are aware of the issues that military families face during deployments and can provide financial assistance. Military families may not be aware of these resources, service members and their spouses have different levels of knowledge of military services and supports. After all, military spouses are well acquainted with Murphy’s Law of Deployment- everything that can go wrong will… appliances break, children get sick, and cars break down… it’s true! 

As with many things in our lives with loved ones with disabilities, it’s about relationships.  Your Parent Center’s relationship with its local EFMP staff is vital. Share your programs and resources with them so that they can post, share, and send information to families! 

To see your local installations and to connect with EFMP or SLO staff, visit our Interactive Maps.