DOD, USDA Announce Family Support Partnership
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
CHICAGO, Apr. 28, 2011 The Defense and Agriculture departments formally recognized a 25-year working relationship yesterday as well as a budding partnership aimed at improving military families’ lives.
Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and policy, and Cathie E. Woteki, the Agriculture Department’s undersecretary for research, education and economics, celebrate the signing of a proclamation in recognition of the DOD and USDA Extension-Military Partnership during the opening session of the 2011 Family Resilience Conference in Chicago, April 27, 2011. Courtesy photo by Shaun M. Kelly
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and policy, and Cathie E. Woteki, USDA’s chief scientist and undersecretary for research, education and economics, signed a proclamation in recognition of the DOD and USDA Extension-Military Partnership during the opening session of their joint 2011 Family Resilience Conference here.
“This exciting, growing partnership between our two departments provides us with the opportunity to work more closely with family, child and youth researchers and community-capacity building experts,” Gordon said. “They’ve studied and developed some of America’s most promising practices for strengthening communities –- the same communities where our military members and their families live.”
The partnership grew out of a common desire to extend support to military families where they work and live, explained Cathann A. Kress, senior program analyst for the Pentagon’s office of military community and family policy. The partnership, she said, aims to strengthen community capacity in support of military families, increase professional and workforce development opportunities for those working with military families, and expand and strengthen family, child care and youth development programs.
It also will encourage both agencies to develop and deliver new and innovative means to better serve all Americans in the communities where they reside, she added.
The Agriculture Department brings extensive community-level expertise to the table, Kress noted, through its Cooperative Extension Program and its youth counterpart, the 4-H Club. The extension program, which is in every U.S. state and territory, extends land-grant universities’ knowledge and research to communities, and in turn, passes back community issues to the universities to help in shaping studies and initiatives.
DOD has much to offer as well, Gordon said, citing a few of the department’s ongoing efforts to care for families nationwide. DOD school liaisons, for instance, work directly with school administrators, teachers and parents to facilitate a learning environment that’s responsive to the emotional needs of military children “who shoulder their own burdens in the face of frequent moves and deployments,” he said.
At the state level, the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children is helping to remove barriers created by frequent school transfers, he said. So far, he added, 36 states serving 88 percent of the 1.1 million school-age military children have agreed to a common set of guidelines regarding transfers.
Gordon also cited a program that’s expanding child care capacity for National Guard and Reserve families and active-duty members who are geographically dispersed or unable to access child care programs on a military installation.
This partnership is based on a 25-year relationship between the two departments that has expanded substantially in the past three years, Kress noted, citing a few success stories that have occurred in recent years.
One example, she said, is the Penn State Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness, which serves as a repository for military family-related programs. People seeking a program can visit the Clearinghouse website to check its effectiveness, and then make a decision based on evidence-based information posted there.
Another program is offered through Ohio State University. The Virtual Child Development Lab School program offers online training to providers at military child development centers. The lab school in Ohio, which is run by students, is considered one of the most cutting-edge child care centers in the nation. In return, university students gain knowledge about the unique needs of military families, Kress said.
Additionally, Purdue University’s Military Extension Internship program recruits college students pursuing child development degrees and places them in military centers around the world. Seven of these interns now are employed by the Defense Department.
These and other initiatives are “just at the top of a very large iceberg,” Gordon said. “Our coordinated efforts are important not only to our military families, but to all citizens in our local communities.”