Astor co-authors study on students from military families in JAMA Pediatrics

Ron Avi Astor has co-authored a new study in JAMA Pediatrics. The article, titled “Substance Abuse and Other Adverse Outcomes for Military-Connected Youth in California: Results From a Large-Scale Normative Population Survey,” finds that students in military families are at higher risk for drug use, being bullied and bringing weapons to school.

Ron Avi Astor

Dr. Ron Avi Astor

Astor is Lenore Stein-Wood and William S. Wood Professor of School Behavioral Health at the USC School of Social Work and holds a joint appointment at USC Rossier.

More military-connected students reported using alcohol (45 percent vs. 39 percent); being hit, kicked, slapped or pushed (36 percent vs. 27 percent); or bringing a gun to school (10 percent vs. 5 percent) than other students. Astor’s co-authors are from the USC School of Social Work and Bar Ilan University in Israel.

Across 21 risk categories, military-connected children reported significantly higher negative outcomes as part of a 2013 survey of approximately 688,000 California middle and high school students, which included 54,679 military-connected children.

Children with parents or a caregiver in the armed forces were much more likely to have used prescription medications (36 percent vs. 27 percent), brought a knife to school (15 percent vs. 9 percent), been in a fight (27 percent vs. 17 percent) or feared being beaten up (24 percent vs. 18 percent).

It is estimated that 4 million students nationwide have had parents serve since the start of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, and most are currently are enrolled in U.S. public schools.

Previously, military-connected children had been a largely invisible population in public civilian schools and rarely studied, said Astor.

“These results suggest that a sizable subset of military-connected students are struggling to cope with the ramifications of two long wars,” said Kathrine Sullivan, a PhD student in social work at USC and the lead author of the paper. “While a lot of military kids are still doing well despite these stressors, many are in need of more support.”

This is the latest, largest and most comprehensive study on military-connected children using the California Department of Education’s California Healthy Kids Survey to identify military-connected children as a separate group alongside ethnic, racial and homeless categories. The findings follows four smaller surveys conducted since 2011 by the same researchers who found military-connected children had higher suicidal thoughts, experienced more stress because of deployments and had difficulty transitioning to new schools.

“Our country needs to invest in providing civilian and community support to the estimated 4 million children who had parents serve during wartime — given the broad picture of risks facing this sizable group of military children, this is the least we can do as a nation to show our gratitude and care after the longest war in our country’s history,”Astor said.

A recently published study by the same group also found that statewide military students exhibited higher suicidal behaviors and thoughts than their civilian counterparts.

For more on the study, visit the USC Newsroom.