DoD to Assess Youth Support
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 7, 2000 Drugs, alcohol, sex, gangs, puberty, peer pressure, school violence -- it's not easy being a teen.
Add frequent moves, deployments and other factors unique to military life and you get what military family program specialists call "teens at risk."
Almost 300,000 of the military's 1.2 million children are between the ages of 12 and 18, according to Carolee Van Horn, a child and youth program analyst with DoD's Office of Children and Youth, Military Community and Family Policy here.
A 1997 DoD survey of about 7,000 military teens showed they'd moved five times on average. "That's got to be a stressor, Van Horn said. "Being separated from your parents and friends, living in overseas communities -- these are all above and beyond what civilian youth go through."
The survey also found that half the surveyed military youth were interested in, or at least considering, joining the military. "When we do things for our youth, we're really investing in the future, in our military workforce," Van Horn said.
Family program specialists from throughout the military discussed teens issues at the DoD Family Readiness Conference in Phoenix in late August. Guest speaker Bill Kearney said teens are in the middle of transitioning "from childhood to adulthood, from dependence to independence."
The vice president of teen services for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Kearney said adults often see teens as selfish, moody, lethargic, unpredictable, angry, surly, independent, sullen, manipulative, stubborn, sneaky, scared, argumentative.
"That's exactly what my daddy told me," remarked conferee Bull Barnes, the Marine Corps' community support officer at 29 Palms, Calif. No matter what era, he stressed, teens will be teens.
"Whenever I get fed up with my son's music," Barnes said, "I have to say, 'Now wait a minute, Bull. The Beatles didn't corrupt you. NSync, the Backstreet Boys or whatever he's listening to this week, is probably not going to ruin his life, so just chill. Everything's going to be OK."
In many ways, attendees agreed, time has not changed things too much for teens. But, they said, today, more than ever before, deployments separate military youth from their parents. The youth lack the presence of extended family, long-term friends and a sense of community.
Teens want their parents to talk with them, said Navy Chaplain (Cmdr.) Dale Parker, Navy Personnel Command, Millington, Tenn. "We don't have to understand everything about all these issues to establish a relationship with our kids," he said. "They can teach us a lot if they trust us and believe we really do want to hear what they're saying.
"When kids feel secure at home, a lot of these issues will be taken care of if the parent is really loving the child."
Professionals can help, the chaplain added, "but there's no substitute for that mom and dad."
According to Military Family Resource Center research, the free time youths have correlates with their misbehavior. A 1997 civilian study found 60 percent of the youth surveyed were home alone two or more hours a day. Most of this unsupervised time occurs after school -- most crimes committed by youth occur within four hours after the school day.
Recognizing youths' growing need for support and services, DoD family policy officials developed the Strategic Action Plan for Youth following a DoD conference in 1998. Teens attended that meeting, as did chaplains, medical specialists, family advocacy officials and other family program officials, Van Horn said.
"Anyone who's dealt with youth these days knows they're very vocal and very articulate. They made it clear that they didn't want this to be another bureaucratic plan that just gets put on the shelf. They wanted us to move forward with this."
DoD then developed 10 objectives to:
o Provide comprehensive youth programs.
o Ensure command support and involvement.
o Promote youth involvement.
o Recognize and support family involvement.
o Develop standard policies.
o Expand partnerships and collaborations.
o Ensure adequate resources.
o Ensure qualified, enthusiastic adults work with youth.
o Promote health services for adolescent growth and development.
o Address the needs of at-risk youth.
DoD children and youth officials are now addressing the strategic plan's 10th objective: address the needs of at- risk youth. "We want to be able to provide commanders with strategies to support the well-being of youth and eliminate behavior problems," Van Horn said.
DoD's Office of Children and Youth has developed partnerships with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the Justice Department, DoD schools and the services. An advisory panel has been formed and a community risk- assessment tool is being developed for use at overseas locations.
"Youth at these bases don't have as many alternatives as those living in the states," Van Horn said. "But we still think this community assessment tool will be applicable to stateside installations as well."
DoD's ultimate goals are to provide installation commanders with a snapshot of the state of youth in their community, she said, and to identify possible sources to help identify prevention programs.
The immediate goal is to train a joint-service, multidisciplinary team of DoD representatives to conduct the risk assessments, she told conferees. "We're working with a contractor to develop the tool and we're looking for feedback from you that can enhance the process or point out any of the indicators we should be looking for."
The pilot assessment will be conducted on first come, first serve basis when requested by an installation commander. "We would like you to help spread the word that this tool will be available in the near future."
The plan is to leave the commanding officer with useful information -- observations on what's good, what needs work and strategies for future improvements, Van Horn said.
"Anonymity is really important. The only person who will see the final report is the commander at that installation.
"It's not an inspection. The goal of the assessment is to help commanders and installation officials recognize the needs of their youth and provide possible strategies the installation may not even know are available. she said.
Michael Berger, head of the Children and Youth Programs at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., applauded the development of the assessment tool. He told the group that the Marine Corps recently conducted a week-long teen summit.
"We let them identify their issues," he said. "Interestingly enough, some of the very issues that you are identifying, the teens themselves have already identified as needs. So our real challenge is to now respond to those needs and the assessment tool will help all of us take that first step in addressing those needs."
Information on family and youth programs is available from the Military Family Assistance Program Web site at http://dticaw.dtic.mil/mapsite. For more information on military youth, visit the Teens on the Move Web site at /mtom.