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July 26, 2005 

New Initiative to Address Needs of Children in Military Households

Study results could benefit other vulnerable children

Life for many military families requires a high degree of flexibility and mobility, with frequent relocations and long periods of time when a parent is absent or in a danger. The U.S. Defense Department has awarded the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health a $4.5 million grant to establish the Military Child Initiative, which will evaluate and address the special needs of children of military personnel. Over the next three years, the Military Child Initiative will use programs and services to help an estimated 1.5 million children of service personnel integrate more easily into public school. While the research will focus on children of military personnel, the findings could benefit all children who live in vulnerable environments, who have parents who are in harm’s way, who are grieving or who are experiencing parental loss and significant stress.

“Frequent moving and separation from a parent can be difficult for children. All too often, schools unwittingly exacerbate the stress experienced by military youth and their families through social isolation, due in part to the lack of appropriate supports for students and well-planned strategies for family and community involvement,” said Robert Blum, MD, MPH, PhD, principal investigator of the Military Child Initiative and the William H. Gates Sr. Professor and chair of the Department of Population and Family Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. “We have a generation of research that has identified the highly protective role schools can play in moderating the academic, social and health behavior risks of youth. Our goal is to move research-based practical approaches into schools and school districts so that these children and other youth in similar situations can thrive, especially those who are most emotionally vulnerable and socially mobile.”

Over the next three years, the Military Child Initiative will compile a database of the best practices in fostering student connectedness with their schools, in engaging students, and in increasing their sense of inclusion and participation. Information will be available to classroom teachers, parents and the community, while teachers, administrators and other school personnel will receive web-based training on how to meet the special needs of military children. In addition, the initiative will develop a web-based course for teachers and administrators.

Researchers will also provide technical assistance to those schools and communities with high numbers of military dependants to help them develop, implement and sustain effective programs that help foster relationships between educators and parents. Such programs will be customized to meet the specific needs of participating schools and school districts.

In conjunction with providing technical assistance, the Military Child Initiative will also conduct needs assessments and evaluations to better understand and document the concerns, issues and needs of military children in school. The initiative will also examine how the experiences of military children can shed light on the lives of all highly mobile young people.

A series of national conferences is also planned to bring together educators from school systems with high densities of military dependents so they can share and learn strategies that improve the school environment so as to ease the integration of military children and their families into the school community. In doing so, Blum noted, evidence strongly suggests that social, educational and health outcomes will be improved.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Lowe at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.