Resources for children of defence, veteran and first responder families

Posted 23rd April 2024

By Dr Marg Rogers, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education, UNE and Postdoctoral Fellow, Manna Institute; and Ms Emily Small, early childhood teacher and consultant specialising in risk management, inclusion and behaviour support.

Defence, veteran and first responder families can be faced with unique experiences that can impact on the health and wellbeing of all family members including children.

Research in the mental health and wellbeing of Vietnam veteran’s children reveal suicide in children of veterans is three times higher than the general population.1 Similar research has shown that children from service families are more likely to struggle with mental health issues and less likely to thrive in educational settings than their civilian peers.2

To address the challenges facing service families, a range of resources have been developed through the Child and Family Resilience Programs, to proactively support the multifaceted aspects of mental health and suicide prevention by including a range of topics, delivered in targeted storybooks and modules to address specific issues these families face. The resources are free, accessible online, and are developed on the evidence base and use a strength-based approach.

Examples of some of the resources include storybooks, which create a springboard for open dialogue between the child and their parent, support worker, or educator. These lived-experience narratives provide a framework for discussing the themes presented in the story, then lead to an opportunity to discuss the child’s feelings and responses. These conversations are supported with downloadable puppets and storytelling activities to allow children to act out what is happening in the story and at home. This helps them practice their emotions in a safe way and express how they are feeling.

The modules cover topics to help build the knowledge and confidence of the parents, support workers and educators so they understand the impacts of service family life. They offer practical strategies to support children using a strengths-based approach.

Benefits and challenges

The Child and Family Resilience Programs' resources provide ways to build on the positive aspects of service family life. This can include, being part of a supportive community, supports the organisation provides families, the experience of living in different locations, and being proud of their parent’s service.

The resources build the coping skills of children and families as they experience:

  • frequent relocations,
  • challenges in maintaining friendships due to transient lifestyles,
  • disruptions in their educational settings and systems,
  • changes to their community support networks,
  • fears about the safety of their parent, and
  • parental absence due to working away, and on-call and shift work.

Families may also face challenges stemming from having a parent with a service-related physical and/or mental health concern, including moral injury. Despite their best efforts to shield their children from the impacts of their trauma, it can manifest directly through changes in parental behaviour within the home environment, or indirectly through vicarious transmission to their children. The resources may be able to help mitigate trauma for service children, with the potential to prevent mental health concerns and suicidal thoughts, and behaviours in adulthood.

Accessing supports

Accessing supports can be challenging, with 30% of Defence members living in regional, rural and remote communities, and this level rises to 50% for Veterans. Many first responder families live in these locations, highlighting the need for online supports.

View the Child and Family Resilience Programs' resources and personalised programs.



Morbidity of Vietnam veterans: suicide in Vietnam Veterans' children, supplementary report 1, Summary - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (


May, K., Van Hooff, M., Doherty, M. et al. Experiences of Parental PTSD for Children Aged 9–17 in Military and Emergency First Responder Families. J Child Fam Stud 32, 3816–3834 (2023).

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