By Ellen Daniels, Youth-Nex Communications Director
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Youth-Nex, has teamed up with the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), an organization that seeks to ensure quality education for military youth, to fund four early career scholars to investigate topics to help military-connected youth.
The researchers, two from military families themselves, will focus on a range of issues to improve academic achievement such as mental and physical health, skill building, and problem solving.
Fourteen candidates submitted manuscripts to the MSEC scientific advisory committee, of which Youth-Nex director, Patrick Tolan is a member, for the opportunity to win $2,000. One thousand will be awarded at the start of their work and another $1,000 with submission of their manuscript. They will also be assigned a senior mentor for support and advise.
According to MCEC communications director, Michael Gravens, there are over one million school-age, military-connected students in pre-kindergarten through grade twelve in the United States and they often face unique and multiple stressors, such as frequent moves, family separation and losing friends due to parental deployment.
“The military lifestyle is unlike any other lifestyle in our nation and that holds true for the children of those who serve in the military,” said Gravens.
For example, it’s normal for children of active duty service members to move between six and nine times during their K-12 school years, he said. That’s about three times more frequently than their civilian counterparts said Gravens and can negatively impact development and academic achievement.
“Moving is always difficult, regardless of who you are or how old you are. The social- emotional implications can be really tough, trying to make new friends, having new teachers, and simply trying to “fit in” with the new environment. For some military-connected children, it’s their toughest challenge and yet for others, they’ll make the transition just fine, they just need a period of adjustment and perhaps a little help.”
Despite the large numbers of affected youth and the host of unique hurdles they face, Gravens said there hasn’t been nearly enough research supporting the need for policies, programs and assistance for these children.
“At this point there is no reliable, or consistent information on the academic health of these students…The Department of Education encourages schools to operate using data-driven decisions, yet we’re not there yet with military-connected children. Education systems can’t even answer simple questions such as how many military-connected students do they serve and how well did those students perform in a given subject,” he said.
Gravens added that “without precise data, decisions about the children & youth, money, and initiatives are at risk of being based on supposition rather than on factual information.”
Youth-Nex director, Patrick Tolan explained that Youth-Nex is assisting with financial support because research often gets started but can be blocked by lack of funds.
“Seed funding provides results to justify larger grants and important programmatic research. In helping these researchers complete their work, we could make a big difference in the lives of military youth, it is a small investment with a large potential payoff.”
Tolan stressed that the winning applications were selected based on their plan of research to further the understanding of military youth that also included a positive youth development perspective.
“We also want to help these early career scientists pursue studies about the resilience and capability of youth in military families. A positive focus is a primary mission of Youth-Nex,” said Tolan.
One of the researchers who received funding is Dr. Suzanne Kerns, a clinical psychologist and professor from the University of Washington. Her husband, father and grandfather have all served in the armed forces and she has experienced many challenges in her own life and in the lives of her many military friends.
“Throughout this work, I consistently would hear about the additional unique challenges of military-connected children,” she said. “I’m sad to say that we’ve lost a good friend to the Iraq war and have seen the impact of this on his family.” She said in her application.
Kerns’ work will seek to improve the emotional and behavioral health of children through therapeutic interventions, such as counseling, and will address barriers to participation in treatment.
“This opportunity feels like a real honor— to be able to receive early-career feedback and mentoring and to be able to conduct research that has the potential to improve the psychological well being of children of military personnel.”
Ediza Garcia, a psychologist from UCLA, will study the effects of skill building groups on children’s functioning, exploring whether specific group therapy settings can teach children important skills needed to manage feelings, communicate effectively, and solve problems.
Garcia became interested in military-connected families while pursuing her doctorate in Virginia Beach. “I quickly learned about this community, their strengths and struggles, and about the impact of deployment on spouses, children and families,” she said.
“Military children serve too,” said Garcia. “While military families are resilient, they are also dealing with many challenges and stressful circumstances. It’s our obligation to equip them with tools to cope with their military life experiences.”
“I consider working with military families a privilege and this award allows me to do the work I enjoy in an effort to serve our military families.”
Amanda Reedy of Eastern Washington University will study how the principles in the field of Positive Youth Development are related to positive outcomes for military youth.
Alexa Smith-Osborne of University of Texas at Arlington will study the impact of interventions on the physical health of youth exposed to high amounts of stress or trauma.
The opportunity was announced at the 2012 Military Child Education Coalition Research Training Symposium June 26-27th, 2012 “Understanding America’s Military-Connected Youth through Positive Youth Development”
Applicants are expected to describe interests and outline a plan of research focused on the symposium topic: “Understanding America’s Military-Connected Youth through Positive Youth Development.