For members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), returning from a military deployment can be a challenging time, particularly for those with young families. It can be difficult to return to the rhythm of family life and to reconnect after a long period away. With approximately 29,000 members of the ADF having dependent children, ensuring that deployment does not negatively impact parent-child relationships is an issue that demands attention.

Alixandra Risi.

Alixandra Risi, who is undertaking a PhD in Clinical Psychology with the School of Psychology at the University of Wollongong (UOW), is investigating the post-deployment experiences of military families. Risi said research into the subject was limited and mostly focused within the American context. “The small body of research available highlights that military families with young children face unique psychological and relational challenges during the post-deployment period,” she said. “We need to better understand the post-deployment experiences of ADF families, not only to close the gap in our understanding of the military family experience, but also to directly inform interventions that can improve outcomes for ADF families.”

Deployment refers to the period of time when a caregiver is away from their home or family because of operational duties, including war-like operations, peacetime operations, and training exercises. Risi said some of the changes that can occur in the family structure during this time include a shift in the relationship between the deployed family member and the caregiver who remains at home, and difficulties in the relationship between the deployed family member and their children – both in terms of managing behaviour and connecting in positive ways. “Many military families internationally have said that returning home, and re-entering civilian and family life, can be incredibly challenging and difficult to navigate,” Risi said.

Risi is inviting current ADF members to participate in the research she is undertaking, as part of her PhD at UOW’s Early Start. In particular, she is eager to hear from members who have a child aged 0-5 and who have been deployed during their child’s lifetime, as well as caregivers, who may also be members of the ADF, who have remained at home while their partner has been deployed. The respondents will take part in an online survey that will take approximately 60 minutes.

Risi said that by sharing their firsthand experiences, military families will help researchers to gain valuable insights into the impact of deployment on the family unit in Australia. “The research will capture the impact of reintegration on parent-child relationships; parental mental health; parenting stress; and child emotions and behaviours. Our findings will inform the development of parenting interventions for children under five years of age, with the aim of mitigating this impact.”


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