Caring Adults for Military Connected Children

Posted May 6, 2014

By: David Park of America’s Promise Alliance

At a recent GradNation Community Summit in Jacksonville, a group of young people shared their stories about the challenges of getting through high school. Most of them came from low-income families and they spoke of unique, but equally grueling circumstances that could have easily caused them to drop out of school. And yet they were thriving.

When asked what it was that got them through the difficult times and ultimately thrive, each recalled someone in their lives who cared enough to want them to succeed, and knew enough to help make it happen. For some, this was a parent. For others it was a sibling, coach, teacher, or mentor.

America’s Promise Alliance believes in the power of caring adults. We have since the birth of our organization, when all the living presidents signed the Summit declaration at the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future, listing Caring Adults as the very first Promise. Our commitment to this Promise drives our vision and fuels our work in communities across the country.

We believe that a caring adult – one who can help navigate and negotiate the complexities of a young person’s life – can make a significant difference in the lives of all children, and can certainly have an impact on a military connected child.

Through my work at America’s Promise, I have gotten to know many people who work closely with our servicemen and women, veterans and military families. I was privileged to be part of the original group that launched the Community Blueprint, and have since worked with such terrific organizations as Be the Change, Give an Hour, and Military Child Education Coalition. Through these groups and many others, I have learned a lot about the strength and resilience of the military family – and also about the unique challenges faced by some of our two million military connected youth.

Col. James Isenhower reminded us at the Building a GradNation Summit in Washington that every military child is different, and they each respond to their unique situation in their own way, so I would never presume to fully understand the complexities of the life of a military connected child. However I know that some – no matter how resilient – experience deep sadness, fear, and anxiety. These feelings can be triggered by prolonged periods of separation from one or both parents, from the stress associated with the inherent danger of a family member in combat, or from changes to family dynamics when the service member returns home.

A 2013 report from Child Trends states that young children’s wellbeing typically mirrors the wellbeing of their caregivers. When the parent or caregiver is depressed, anxious or angry, the child is likely to be unwell. And older children can have behavioral problems due to the complexities of a parent experiencing physical or psychological trauma.

The caring adult’s role in a military family is extremely important especially given the military connected child’s unique circumstances. In instances when the parent cannot assume the role of a caring adult, it is critical that the community step in – schools, afterschool programs, mentors, tutors, and coaches all can have a critical role to play.

Another speaker at the Building a GradNation Summit was Former Deputy Under Secretary Rob Gordon III. He reminded us that caring and respect is critical, and “at the end of the day we still have to act.” I challenge you to think of more and better ways to heed this call – as organizations, or through individual acts of service. Let’s make sure every single military connected child has a caring adult to help them succeed and thrive. I can’t think of a better way to honor those who have given so much to our nation.