New book to help Defence families talk through “moral injuries”

20 March 2024
Dr Amy Johnson stands in an outdoor setting, she wears a dotted scarf and dark-rimmed glasses.
Dr Amy Johnson

By Mary Bolling

CQUniversity military families sociologist Dr Amy Johnson knows first-hand how the experiences of serving members and veterans can impact their loved ones. 

The partner of a Royal Australian Navy veteran, and an active volunteer with her local Legacy group in Rockhampton, Dr Johnson has contributed to a new children’s book tackling “moral injuries” and related family trauma. 

Dad’s Moral Injury Cloud: Lara’s Story is a research-informed picture book, published by Children’s Family Resilience Programs, a University of New England-led initiative creating free early childhood and school-aged resources for children from military, veteran, first responder and remote worker families. 

The book represents moral injury as a cloud, and provides a springboard for a child impacted by a parent’s moral injury to discuss their experiences.  

A moral injury is defined as an extreme life experience that violates an individual’s deeply-held beliefs or moral values, leaving feelings of shame, guilt or blame. 

Dr Johnson said she’d become increasingly aware of the challenges of moral injury from her research and volunteer work. 

“One of my research participants spoke about the challenges of supporting her Navy partner after he had completed a challenging deployment – while he hadn’t been injured, or developed post-traumatic stress disorder, he had experienced distressing things that he didn’t know how to talk about,” she explained.

The Rockhampton-based researcher said digital resources were vital for Defence and veteran families in regional areas, to have access to high-quality resources which support their well-being.

“We moved from a capital city with a strong veteran population, to a regional city where less people have had direct experience of service,” she explained. 

“This means it’s less likely that community support people like healthcare workers will understand what it’s like to be part of a service family.

“It’s great that more ‘tricky’ topics are being identified and discussed – and Dad’s Moral Injury Cloud is helping address a real lack of resources for families with young children.”

Dr Johnson collaborated with UNE academic Dr Marg Rogers and a cross-disciplinary, multi-institutional team to write the book and develop a set of accompanying resources.

Dr Rogers said the book filled a gap for childen who didn't understand the impact of moral injury on their parents. 

“Someone with a moral injury can then struggle to connect with their partner and children, because of this difference of perspective and their sense of being unworthy or sense they have a toxicity that will rub off on others. Children can then end up feeling a sense of neglect or that their parent doesn’t love them, which can present in them acting out, experiencing increased anxiety and a lowered sense of confidence,” Dr Rogers said.

“All our resources are different in the way they acknowledge that partners and children suffer along with the parent where there is an injury or trauma, and they have a particular focus on helping build understanding, strength and coping skills in children and their support networks.”

An accompanying interactive module for parents includes videos explaining moral injury and experiences with it, information on behavioural impacts, and where to go to find support in the UK, Canada and Australia. 

A support worker module will also be developed, to help professionals better assist affected children.

The book and module are currently available for feedback, including in a formal trial with the Kings College Centre for Military Health Research with families in the UK.

Explore the moral injury resources here. 

If this article has raised upsetting or traumatic issues for you, please reach out for support to Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24-hour support for all Australians).