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DoD Summit Helps Young Kids, Families Cope

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2005 – A Defense Department summit today addressed how trauma and stress impact children's well-being and what interventions work to support their healthy development and family competence.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
John M. Molino, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy and deputy undersecretary for equal opportunity, speaks at a DoD summit on military families Nov. 3 in Washington. "It's a national imperative to take care of our children and provide a reasonable level of normality for our families," he said. Photo by Rudi Williams

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The summit, titled "When Duty Calls - Supporting Military Families Through Challenging Times," ends Nov. 5. It's being held in conjunction with the "Zero to Three" 20th National Training Institute here. More than 500 of the 1,825 conclave attendees took part in the DoD summit.

John M. Molino, DoD's presiding official, said attendees came to "learn more about strategies to help our children and their families effectively cope with a high stress environment, the impact of national disasters, and the consequences of war." Molino is the deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy and deputy undersecretary for equal opportunity.

"There are 332,000 children under 3 years of age in our active-duty families, and there are 109,000 infants and toddlers in the families of our Guard and Reserve forces," Molino said. "Can there be any doubt that your dedicated work is absolutely critical to help children develop the emotional and coping mechanisms needed during stressful circumstances?"

Attendees included experts in early child care and education, social work, family advocacy, new parent support programs, and pediatric and behavioral health. Attendees came from more than 170 military installations across the U.S. and as far away as Korea, Japan and Europe.

"It's especially gratifying to recognize the depth of the department's expertise sitting right before me. Representation from a variety of relevant disciplines is key to all future endeavors," Molino said.

He told the summit attendees that he hopes that their presence would "result in new, collaborative initiatives, greater understanding, and proactive, preventative interventions to make a positive difference in the lives of our youngest children."

Molino noted that military service carries a high price for both servicemembers and their families. "Military families cope with many challenges that generate stress, anxiety and uncertainty," he said. "The Department of Defense has long recognized that service to our nation places a heavy demand on families. Among the hardships continuously faced by those in uniform are frequent deployments encompassing both long- and short-term separations.

"Beyond the normal impact of experiencing distance from your loved one, the level of danger involved during current deployments exacerbates the trauma," Molino added. "It's typical for family members to experience fear regarding their loved one's safety, which can lead to anger, sadness, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and loss of emotional support."

Consequently, he said, DoD has implemented a program of face-to-face, nonmedical counseling for military families experiencing the normal stress of deployments and reunions. "This counseling," Molino noted, "which is outside the areas covered by Tricare, includes issues such as parent and child communications, single parenting, deployment stress, financial pressures, and career and education counseling."

Such services involve early intervention in problem situations to prevent more serious problems, he said, adding that the services are available in the communities in which the families live.

"Access to this kind of counseling is especially important for family members of those who are serving tours in Iraq and the mobilized Guard and Reserve units who may live a great distance from the programs offered on our installations," Molino said.

He said the stress currently impacting military families -- from anxieties caused by the nature of the mission in hostile environments to the significant increases in frequency and length of family separations -- has not been felt on this magnitude since the inception of the all-volunteer force.

"The focus of this conference is the spectrum of trauma: from lengthy, repeated, dangerous wartime deployments to re-encountering a loved one who has sustained a severe, life-altering injury to the ultimate sacrifice -- the death of a family member," he said.

"It's a national imperative to take care of our children and provide a reasonable level of normality for our families. You are the professionals who touch the lives of our babies and toddlers," Molino told the audience. "You are the professionals who will make positive change happen."

He also thanked the leaders of Zero to Three "for their outstanding dedication to military families and their intervention to address the needs of our most vulnerable family members: infants and toddlers."

He pointed out that DoD has worked in close partnership with the national organization since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon to focus attention and improve the delivery of services and programs to babies and their families.

Zero to Three is a national organization for infants, toddlers and families dedicated to promoting the healthy development of America's babies and young children. It believes that a child's first three years are crucial for developing intellectual, emotional and social skills and that if they aren't developed early on, the child's lifelong potential may be hampered.

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John M. Molino

Related Sites:
Zero to Three http://www.zerotothree.org/

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