Frequent relocations have a tremendous impact on the health and healthcare of military children and youth. The lack of knowledge and data on this topic causes these children to have limited access to adequate healthcare or to fall through the cracks.
To educate the paediatric community about the unique challenges of military children and youth, the Paediatrics and Child Health Journal recently published an article entitled “Caring for children and youth from Canadian military families: Special considerations.”
“Really, the intent of this statement was to make a difference in the lives of military families [by] highlighting some of the challenges that they face. So, taking those experiences I had in my office and bringing those to light from a public awareness point-of-view,” said Dr. Anne Rowan-Legg, a Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario-based paediatric and author of the article.
Rowan-Legg sees many patients from the military community through her outreach clinic in Renfrew, Ontario, that mainly serves the Pembroke and Petawawa population. It was because of the children that Rowan-Legg was inspired to publish this article.
“I just feel like I was learning a lot by working with children from military families. They were teaching me a lot, and I felt that I had a desire to share that with my paediatrician and family physician colleagues; but, also, more publicly as well,” noted Rowan-Legg.
As an experienced paediatric, Rowan-Legg knows the importance that a child’s social context and home environment have on the medical history of children. This becomes especially important in the context of children from military families.
“I didn’t know, before I started working in a community that had a lot of military families, whether I would have appreciated when I got the answer that a parent or a caregiver was in the military, the significance of that,” commented Rowan-Legg.
The article serves as an introduction to the paediatric and primary care physician community to military families, their lifestyle, their unique stressors and challenges in accessing mental health. It also seeks to educate the medical community about the developmental responses possible in children and youth from military families because of their circumstances.
“Those paediatrics need to be aware of how children at certain ages might respond and react to that, whether it’s behavioural or mental health related,” explained Dr. Rowan-Legg.
A major challenge highlighted in the article is the continuation of care. Transferring medical records can often take time, or records can get lost altogether, which can interrupt routine long-term care for children, such as immunizations. Problems with the continuation of care and access to health care are especially critical for children with more complex medical needs.
Not only does the piece educate about the unique situation and challenges of military families, but it also provides a list of recommendations to combat these challenges.
“What I was hoping for was to reach the policymakers for supporting access-issues and resources, particularly in the area of mental health, and to really emphasis the importance of studying this population,” noted Rowan-Legg.
As Rowan-Legg did more research, she realized that much of the data surrounding military families is U.S. based. She suggests that more research needs to be done on Canadian military families and their healthcare experiences.
Recommendations for the paediatric community, among other things, include identifying military families within the community and their needs, building awareness around mental health for children, ensuring charts are transitioned within a reasonable time and building awareness about the stressors military children face and their possible reactions.
For the government, Rowan-Legg has suggested that they increase military families’ access to medical and mental health services, contribute to ensuring the seamless transition of records, launch studies to collect data about Canadian military families and work with school systems, federal departments and organizations to provide care to military families.
Ultimately, Rowan-Legg hopes that the article can serve as a stepping stone to further educate the paediatric community, get the conversation started amongst paediatrics who attend to military children in sharing best practices and move forward on the suggested recommendations.
“I’d like to see children and youth from military families be recognized both from the primary care provider point-of-view and the government policy point-of-view as a unique population that has some unique needs,” said Rowan-Legg.