Alfano serves as principal investigator for a pilot study examining the impact of deployment on families titled, “Risk and Resilience in Military Families.” The study aims to contribute to understanding of the effects of single and repeated deployments on families by examining relationships between deployment, child behaviors and emotions, parenting stress and practices, family relationships, sleep patterns, and coping within the family. Alfano hopes that findings from the study might be used to develop effective prevention/intervention programs for military families struggling with the long-term effects of war.
“These families have endured lengthy separations, multiple relocations, disruption in family routines, and the very real threat of harm to their loved one, but we know very little about how these unique stressors impact children,” she said. Alfano also points out that stress and hardship do not necessarily remit when service members return home. “A parent’s new physical and/or psychological disability, occupational and financial stressors, and altered family roles have the potential to create more long-term challenges for families.”
A unique aspect of the study is that information from every member of the family will be collected, as compared to previous studies that have been based solely on parent reports. Another distinctive feature is its focus on sleep. Alfano notes that, “Insomnia is the most common problem reported by soldiers after deployment, and when you do not get adequate sleep, every single aspect of your life can be negatively impacted. It affects your physical health. It affects the way you parent. It affects the way you deal with stress and conflict.” However, it is not only service members who experience problems sleeping. “Research shows that children struggling with emotional problems tend to also struggle with sleep. In fact, sleep can be the first place that signs of stress pop up.”
The study will also examine specific types of coping strategies used within families. “We know that some kids deal with deployment better than others, and we want to learn from these children so that we can help the kids who cope less well,” she said.
Alfano is a licensed clinical psychologist and expert in sleep and anxiety disorders, whose research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense (DoD). She is the co-author of the book, “Child Anxiety Disorders: A Guide to Research and Treatment,” and co-editor of the book, “Social Anxiety Disorder in Adolescents and Young Adults: Translating Developmental Science into Practice.” She also serves as associate editor of the Journal of Anxiety Disorders.
Military families being recruited are asked to complete a packet of confidential questionnaires by mail. No in-person visits are required, and each family member (active-duty/
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