Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17058 Working with Military Families and Children In School-Based Settings In Los Angeles County

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 4:30 PM
Wilson (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Deborah Johnson-Hayes, LCSW, Private Practice & Doctoral Candidate, Private Practice, Los Angeles, CA
Susan Shershow, LCSW, Lcsw, Private Practice, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose: Of the approximately 1.25 million school age military children in the United States, the vast majority attend public schools. In fact, military children attend schools in more than 600 public school districts in 47 states and DC. Even in communities with few major military installations, such as Los Angeles, high concentrations of National Guard and Reserve servicemembers in the general population result in high concentrations of military-affected families living in the area and subsequently, military-affected children attending public schools. Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in Iraq have deployed an unprecedented number of Guard and Reservists to the battlefield, exposing military families to the well-documented stressors associated with multiple deployments. School districts across the country experience the effects of deployments in the classroom, as children affected by military service struggle with challenges associated with a parent's deployment. Recognizing these challenges, the Los Angeles Unified School District developed the Military Children's Program within its School Mental Health Unit to address the social, behavioral, and academic impact associated with children having a parent or family member in military service. In addition, the program aimed to benefit the younger siblings of school age students through supportive services provided to the family. Methods: The Military Children's Program was designed to address the challenges of children and families impacted by military service and function as a specialized support, intervention, and referral unit for families experiencing challenges. Developed over the course of 3 years, from 2007 to 2010, the program sought to ascertain the needs and best methods to serve military families with a special focus on building resiliency through age-appropriate interventions. The program responded to challenges faced by military children and families by providing consultation, professional development opportunities, education and information, resource finding and referral, case management, and individual and group support for students and their caregivers. Results: Education and training was successful in raising awareness among school support staff and practitioners from community agencies and organizations of the needs and challenges for military connected children. Children's skill-building groups proved efficacious in decreasing the sense of isolation often experienced by children of a deployed parent. Advocacy and referrals for special needs families experiencing difficulties navigating TRICARE and other military-related services was especially valued by participants. Conclusions and Implications: Schools are a central location where the needs of many families emerge as children and families access school-based resources daily. Findings suggest that a low-cost model of mental health service provision through schools can be an effective and efficient way to meet the needs of thousands of children affected by a family member's deployment to OEF/OIF. Taken together, the families of Guard and Reserve servicemembers and those of the thousands of active-duty personnel who live off-base (70%+), public schools have large populations of children affected by military service who are often unidentified. Public school leadership would be remiss to ignore this unique opportunity understand and address the unique needs of children and families impacted by military service.