Youth-Nex, the University of Virginia’s center to promote effective youth development, has teamed up with the Military Child Education Coalition to fund four early-career scholars whose research is aimed at helping military-connected youth.
The researchers – two from military families themselves – will focus on a range of issues to improve academic achievement, including mental and physical health, skill-building and problem-solving.
Fourteen candidates submitted manuscripts to the coalition’s scientific advisory committee (of which Youth-Nex director Patrick Tolan is a member) for the opportunity to win $2,000 grants.
According to Michael Gravens, the coalition’s communications director, more than 1 million school-age, military-connected students are in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 in the United States, and they often face unique and multiple stressors due to parental deployments, such as frequent moves, family separations and losing friends.
Despite the large numbers of affected youth and the host of unique hurdles they face, Gravens said not nearly enough research has been done to support 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,” he said. “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 they serve and how well those students performed in a given subject.”
Gravens added, “Without precise data, decisions about the children and youth, money, and initiatives are at risk of being based on supposition rather than on factual information.”
Tolan explained that Youth-Nex is assisting with financial support because “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,” he said. “It is a small investment with a large potential payoff.”
Tolan said the winning applications were selected based on their plans of research to further the understanding of military youth that also included a positive youth development perspective – a primary mission of Youth-Nex, which is based at U.Va.’s Curry School of Education.
One of the researchers who received funding is 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 wrote in her application. “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.”
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.
Ediza Garcia, a psychologist from the University of California, Los Angeles, 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 at Regent University in Virginia Beach. “I quickly learned about this community, its strengths and struggles, and about the impact of deployment on spouses, children and families,” she said.
“Military children serve, too,” Garcia said. “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.”
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 the 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.