Improving Care for Children in Military Caregiving Families

Throughout America, more than 2 million children under the age of 18 live with an ill or injured military veteran or service member. They report being proud to support their family member. However, many of these children and teens need more support. 

Children from these caregiving homes often experience stress and anxiety and report feeling isolated from friends and others. At times, their relationship with their healthy parent suffers. “Research on children whose parent or family member returns from military service with an injury or illness points to worrisome outcomes, particularly related to psychological or behavioral well-being,” said the first major report on this issue, “Hidden Helpers on the Frontlines of Caregiving,” published in 2021.

“My children… have had to grow up way too fast and sacrifice so much," said Silvia Lopez, a Delaware resident who cares for her husband, five children and one grandson. 

In 2021, as part of our mission to go “well beyond medicine,” we joined a national coalition to help improve public awareness and health care for children who serve on the front lines at home. The Hidden Helpers Coalition is a joint effort of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project and the Biden Administration’s Joining Forces initiative. 

Nemours Children’s is the first pediatric health system to join the coalition of more than 60 public and private sector organizations. We pledged to create a collection of web-based trainings and resources for health care providers. To create the training, we conducted focus groups and surveys of more than 200 adult caregivers of military veterans and service members. 

The goal is to enable the best possible care by helping providers understand the special needs of children from these families and build trust and understanding with the parents, legal guardians and children. In early 2024, the training was released. It is housed on the continuing education platform of Nemours Children’s Health. It is publicly available. There is no cost to create a user account on the platform or to complete the training. 

“Most care providers have no idea what children caregivers go through/witness/deal with every day,” wrote one parent answering our survey. “My kids have had to do/deal with things most adults couldn’t handle, having to take care of me due to my military injuries.”

Our goal is to directly address this need, so that America’s “Hidden Helpers” can find the help they need to thrive.