WASHINGTON — The Defense Department knows that the whole family serves when a military member serves.
April is the Month of the Military Child, a time to highlight the contributions and sacrifices made by military children.
It’s also a chance to catch up on what the department does for military families.
As a group, military children are a resilient bunch, said Barbara A. Thompson, the director of DoD’s Office of Family Readiness Policy.
Military children need to be resilient, Thompson said. Active-duty military personnel move an average of once every two to three years, according to DoD statistics. And they don’t just move to the next town. Military families are more likely to move long distances and to foreign countries.
Roughly 70 percent of military families do not live on a base, a figure that is somewhat lower overseas, according to a Princeton University study entitled, “The Demographics of Military Children and Families.”
Moves disrupt family life, Thompson said. For children, frequent moves disrupt education, friendships, sports and more.
But there are many that thrive in this environment, Thompson said.
“[Military children] are a very resilient group of people,” she said. “I’m not underestimating what it takes for a military child to move every two or three years — it means a new home, new neighborhood, new friends [and a] new school. Those are challenges. So it takes a supportive environment that begins with the parents and then the whole community to support the military children to help them get through those difficult times of reaching out and becoming a part of that community as a new military child.”
Thompson stresses that everyone is a part of the family readiness system. Chaplains, teachers, child care givers, family advocacy specialists are all part of the support system for children and their parents, she said.
This can be relatively easy on the close confines of an installation, but for families who reside away from a military base — especially for children of those in the reserve and National Guard components — this may be more of a challenge, Thompson said. School administrators, teachers, clergy and social services personnel must understand the special circumstances that military children may find themselves in and know where to go for resources.
About 42 percent of the children of active-duty service members are under the age of 5, Thompson said.
“Our force is young. They marry earlier; they have their first child earlier than their civilian counterparts and we want to make sure the programs we provide meet the needs of those young families,” she said. “We have to be cognizant about the needs of very young children.”
Worldwide Child Development Program Facilities
More than 700 child development program facilities worldwide provide approximately 155,000 child-care spaces, according to officials. In addition, about 3,000 Family Child Care homes offer in-home care. The military child development centers serve approximately 200,000 children daily.
But babies and toddlers aren’t the only focus, officials said. There are about 300 youth and teen centers worldwide serving more than 645,000 youth through a variety of educational and recreational programs. In the past year, about 2,700 military youth participated in camp programs at little or no out-of-pocket expense.
In all of these areas people inside and outside the department are studying ways to make these services better, and this indicates the importance leaders place on the military family, Thompson said.
“We have an office of family readiness recognizing the sacrifices and support that the military family provides to the service member,” she said. “When you look at retention, those decisions are made around the kitchen table. It’s the entire family that contributes to the support of that military member so that he or she is successful in the mission, but it is an entire family that signs up, if you will, and sacrifices on behalf of this nation.”
There are many different resources, Thompson said. Here are a few of them:
— MilitaryOneSource is what is sounds like — the one place to go to for information. A Military Youth on the Move section offers information for children who are preparing to move to a new home or dealing with the aftereffects of a recent move.
–http://www.Militarykidsconnect.org is a site where military children can connect with other children who are facing similar challenges. There are also tips for parents and teachers.
— The Military Child Education Coalition is a non-profit organization focused on the academic and emotional needs of military children in public schools. They offer a variety of programs and resources for students and parents.