Hidden Helpers at the Frontlines of Caregiving: Supporting the Healthy Development of Children from Military and Veteran Caregiving Homes

Hidden Helpers at the Frontlines of Caregiving: Supporting the Healthy Development of Children from Military and Veteran Caregiving Homes

Published: Nov 10, 2021
Publisher: Mathematica
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Associated Project

Supporting the Healthy Development of Children from Military and Veteran Caregiving Homes

Time frame: 2019-2021

Prepared for:

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation

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Key Findings
  • Children want more support to navigate their experiences as Hidden Helpers, and caregivers struggle.
  • Caregivers fight to make the most of their situation and to foster well-functioning families by emphasizing cohesion, communication, and flexibility.
  • Fears of stigma and being misunderstood by friends, family, and the larger community can engender feelings of isolation for children and caregivers.
  • National and local barriers limiting access to speedy, high quality care for care recipients and their families negatively impact the entire family’s well-being, but families have ideas about how to overcome the barriers.

Executive Summary

America’s wounded, injured, or ill service members and veterans are usually cared for by the service members’ or veterans’ family members or friends. Research has identified that attending to the well-being of children, the “Hidden Helpers” living in these homes, was a critical next step to enhance support for military caregiving families.

The return of service members who sustained or developed an illness or injury because of their military service can be disruptive for families as they learn to support them and establish new norms for operating as a family. Amid this disruption, families are often left wanting help. Caregiving consumes the time and energy of the adult caregiver, and children in many military caregiving homes consequently take on additional responsibilities—ranging from additional household chores to caregiving responsibilities for their injured or ill service member or veteran and responsibilities for siblings who would otherwise have been cared for by the adults in the home.

Ultimately, children in military caregiving homes can get lost in their family’s response to the needs of the care recipient. The Elizabeth Dole Foundation partnered with Mathematica to examine the impact of caregiving on children growing up in military caregiving homes to help address the national challenge of providing effective support to caregivers of all ages and backgrounds.

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