Supporting Military Families with Young Children Throughout the Deployment Lifecycle

Aim

Improve understanding of the psychosocial needs of active duty military families with young children specific to deployment-related separation; adapt and test Strong Families Strong Forces Parenting Program, a preventive intervention to promote resiliency in active duty military families with young children through the deployment cycle, compared to an alternate intervention called Strong Parents Self-Care; compare the costs of achieving benefit from the two programs.

Post-9/11 U.S. military service has placed tremendous demands on families of those who serve. That includes more than 2 million children who have experienced parental deployment, with many being under the age of 5 years old, which is a time that is critical to developmental growth.

Currently, no evidence-based and military-specific parenting interventions are available to target this population despite increasing evidence that deployment can have a negative impact on young children and their families.

To combat this problem, Ellen DeVoe, MSW, PhD, of Boston University is leading a STRONG STAR-affiliated study to adapt and test the Strong Families Strong Forces Parenting Program, a universal preventive intervention for active duty parents with young children. The program works with families across the deployment cycle, from the pre-deployment phase through deployment and reintegration. It is designed to reduce deployment-related parenting stress and promote family resilience by supporting parental roles, parenting/co-parenting, and parent-child relationships. As part of the study, the Strong Families Strong Forces Parenting Program will be compared to an alternate intervention called Strong Parents Self-Care.

Helping where it’s needed most

In previous research, the efficacy of Strong Families was established with National Guard and Reservist families. Now, Dr. DeVoe and her study collaborators will evaluate Strong Families Strong Forces at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. The Fort Hood community has experienced a disproportionately high number of deployments in the post-9/11 era and has deployed more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan than any other military installation.

How the study works

Dr. DeVoe’s study involves multiple phases. Preliminary phases included a needs assessment of contemporary military families with young children throughout the deployment cycle and, based on that assessment, the adaptation and pilot testing of Strong Families Strong Forces with military parents and their young children.

For the main phase of the study, the research team will conduct a randomized clinical trial involving 150 military families with young children who have a parent scheduled to deploy in the next six months. Participating families will be randomly placed into one of two groups. One group will be enrolled in the Strong Families Strong Forces Parenting Program, in which study providers will work with families in their homes, delivering a program designed to reduce the impact of deployment separation on parenting stress and co-parenting. The other group will be assigned to the Strong Parents Self-Care program, designed to support parents to focus on the importance of self-care throughout the deployment cycle. At the end of the clinical trial, study investigators will compare the two groups on parenting stress, quality of parent-child relationships, parenting/co-parenting, and family and child well-being.

In a final phase of the study, investigators also will conduct a cost-effectiveness analysis comparing the costs of benefits achieved with Strong Families Strong Forces versus Strong Parents on (1) parenting and psychosocial outcomes and (2) secondary outcomes of health care and social service use, such as emergency department visits and child maltreatment reports.

Expected benefits

This study will be one of the first to examine the efficacy of a preventive intervention for active duty parents and their families across military-related deployments and separations. The investigators believe that evidence-based parenting programs can build resilience in military families, contribute to mission readiness and safety for deployed parents, and facilitate positive reintegration for all family members.

A collaborated effort

This study involves the expert collaboration of a team of investigators from Boston University (principal investigator, Ellen DeVoe, MSW, PhD; co-investigators Tim Brown, PsyD, and Renee Spencer, EdD; training director Michelle Acker, PsyD), The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (co-investigators Katherine Dondanville, PsyD, ABPP, and Abby Blankenship, PhD), and the RAND Corporation (co-investigators Rebecca Kilburn, PhD, and Anita Chandra, PhD), with the support of our military partners at Fort Hood.

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