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A new ‘Breaking Ground’ documentary by WAMU’s Kavitha Cardoza explores the challenges – and opportunities – facing our nations nearly two million military children. With an all-volunteer force, many civilians are unaware of the issues enlistees and their families face. We learn about policies and programs that help these children meet educational goals and support their emotional needs.
- Kavitha Cardoza Special Correspondent, WAMU 88.5 News
- Eileen Huck Deputy Director of Government Relations, National Military Family Association; Navy spouse
- Anita Chandra Senior Policy Researcher and Director of the Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment Division, RAND
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. We've all seen photos of joyous homecoming's at military bases where parents in fatigues scoop up small children and tears are shed as they marvel over how much has changed. What comes next, readjustment to life together as a family and typically another deployment down the line can be a challenge. And those kids can have a hard time keeping up with the shifting emotions and educational landscapes that family moves and absence of a parent can bring.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to discuss the challenges and advantages our nation's military children face is Kavitha Cardoza, special correspondent for WAMU 88.5 News. The latest edition of her "Breaking Ground" documentary series focuses on military children. Kavitha, always a pleasure.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZAThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIJoining us, in studio also, is Eileen Huck, deputy director of Government Relations with the National Military Family Association. She's also a Navy spouse and a mom. Eileen Huck, thank you for joining us.
MS. EILEEN HUCKThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIAnita Chandra is senior policy advisor -- senior policy researcher and director of the Justice Infrastructure and Environment Division at RAND where she has explored issues related to military families. Anita Chandra, thank you for joining us.
MS. ANITA CHANDRAThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation, if you questions or comments, call us at 800-433-8850. Are you part of a military family? Tell us what your biggest challenge is and opportunities have been because of that affiliation, 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, shoot us a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. Kavitha, there's an old saying, if the military wanted you to have a family, they'd have issued you one. Today, that notion is both old fashioned and unrealistic. Just how many children are growing in American military families today and how aware are civilians in most communities of them?
CARDOZAWe've got about two million military children and if you count children of veterans, post 9/11, experts say that it's twice that, so about four million military connected kids. And just one percent of the population (unintelligible) and so we've got a really big disconnect between civilians and the military.
NNAMDINevertheless, there are military children in public schools here that we might be unaware of. It's my understanding that at Leckie Elementary School, here in Washington, about one-third of the kids are military kids.
CARDOZAIt's amazing, Kojo, and I have covered education in D.C. for almost seven years. And I didn't know that, had no idea. And so they're all over then every community in the country. The majority of them go to public schools. We just don't have names, faces, we don't know who they are, which is such a shame, when you think about it. Like, their parents have served the last 10 years, have been extremely difficult for their families. We don't even know who they are.1
NNAMDIWell, for those who have not had a chance to catch Kavitha's "Breaking Ground," documentary, this week, during "Morning Edition," it will air at one o'clock this Friday on WAMU, that's 1:00 p.m. Kavitha will be live tweeting as it airs, following her -- you can follow her at @kavithacardoza and you can find a link to the documentary, it's being picked up by stations around the country. But you can find that link at our website, kojoshow.org. Anita Chandra, resilience...
NNAMDI...seems to be the connecting thread of all of your research at RAND, how do you see this trait develop within the military community and is it fostered to the extent that it needs to be?
CHANDRAWe see it very resonate in military children. They're used to a lot of moves, they're used to, kind of, the ebb and flow of the stress that their families are under. And they have developed a lot of reserves and a lot of capacity to weather that. They can meet new friends, be in new places and really master the ups and downs of military life and deployment stress, in particular.
CHANDRAThe military as well as civilian support programs have been put in place to build resilience and to help kids really deal with the emotional ups and downs. But certainly more could be done and we need to learn a lot from those early programs about what builds resilience, what helps kids bounce back from the kinds of stresses that they face.
NNAMDII was about to ask because what is the source of that resilience? Is it in the military gene somewhere? How do these kids develop it?
CHANDRAIt's a great question. Well, certainly, we know that military families consider themselves serve families all around. It's not just the service member, it's children who serve and they have a real understanding of that commitment. But there's also an understanding of the life that comes with that. And so it is fostered and developed over time. It doesn't mean that these children don't struggle and we have to pay attention to it. But there is certainly a orientation and a commitment in these families, that I think helps to create that resilience.
NNAMDIKavitha, sometimes we, people like me, use this word resilient, too easily. You know that a lot of times, when people raise concerns about kids in trying circumstances, whatever the root issue, that we talk about how resilient they are. Do you see any pitfalls in that?
CARDOZAI worried a lot of it through the reporting, which is almost taken a year, Kojo, I felt like I cover low income children very often and I hear the word resilience and I always wonder, is it just a word we adults use to say, oh kids will bounce back, you know, to make us feel better about ourselves. And I really wanted to make sure that it wasn't the case with military kids. Oh, we're not tracking them but, oh, they're doing, you know, really well. We don't know who the military kids are but, oh, they're resilient.
CARDOZABut I have to say, I agreed -- , I mean, Anita has done some fabulous research on this but also from meeting the many, many military families, I found, that it was true, there's just something about them, that they are, you know, unintentionally or intentionally they are doing certain things in the family, in their community and they really are, are really resilient. And I think, we, as civilians, have a lot to learn from them.
NNAMDIEileen Huck, before we talk challenges, what kind of opportunities? What kinds of advantages are there for kids who grow up as part of a military family?
HUCKMilitary families will tell us that they're kids really benefit in some instances from the constant moving around, from the opportunity to see new places, many times have experiences living overseas. They become much more confident often because they are forced to be the new kid in the classroom, so many times, they're forced to just be confident about reaching out and making new friends. And so I think that's a real advantage that you can often see to kids, who grow up in this lifestyle.
NNAMDIKavitha, one high school student that you spoke with in Quantico, highlighted a kind of appreciation that she has for time with family because of her experience. Let's listen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALEYou may have friends who are not military who say, well, I don’t want to go to my grandma's house for Thanksgiving and it just almost seems like a pain to them. You just think to yourself, maybe you shouldn't take it for granted. I think, that's something that, maybe, military kids understand more, is cherishing every moment that you do have because you don't know what moments you might not have together.
CARDOZAIsn't that so beautiful? And she was 16. I'll tell you, I felt so ashamed when I heard that because it was just a general question, what do you think military kids can teach us? And I thought it would be like, we get to go to different countries or, you know, something kind of superficial that I might've thought when I was 16. And it was such a deep thought.
NNAMDIEspecially for a kid at that age because when I heard it, what sprang into my mind was that I did not have that experience until I left home and went to college because I went to another country to college and so I couldn't run home at every holiday to be with my family and I missed them so much that I realized that kids at a much younger age having that experience, have to be able to cope with it. So that's fairly a common sentiment especially as they kids mature into young adults?
CARDOZAVery much. I think they really appreciate what their parents do, what that -- you know, the sacrifices their parents make often, Kojo, when their parents deploy, it's a huge difference in the family. They have to take on additional responsibilities, they have to -- one child, down in Virginia Beach, he said, "Yeah, it's kind of hard when my dad leaves because, you know, I have to do a lot more chores at home."
CARDOZASo I was teasing him about that. But then he said, you know, on every weekend, like, I can only go for soccer once every other -- I mean, every other week. And I said, why? He said, because my dad isn't there to drive my sister anymore. And so one week my mom takes me and one week my mom takes her. And I thought, that's a huge change for, like, a 14-year-old boy.
NNAMDIThat's why the word resilient keeps coming up. But speaking of the effects on family, let's go to Joseph in Woodbridge, Va. Joseph, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOSEPHOh yeah, well, I was talking about when I deployed, I was surprised to discover that I thought it was just me and my girlfriend and my parents who were all going to be worried and my brothers and sisters. But, it turns out, I had a whole country and a whole Catholic church in Swaziland worried about me and I've got relatives who I hadn't seen in years who heard about it and will stop watching news for a year.
NNAMDIYeah, it goes all the way to the extent of the extended family, doesn't it?
JOSEPHOf course, it's crazy. I mean, the country of Swaziland. I was like, you know, I didn't even -- they weren't even deployed. I'm a U.S. citizen but they were like, you know, our cousins -- U.S. and (unintelligible) services go active.
NNAMDIIt affects a great deal of people. Thank you very much for sharing that with us, especially with the little ones. We've all heard of parents who get on a daycare waiting list before they even tell family that they're expecting a child. Eileen, for a long time, daycare and pre-K were a big challenge for military members who are typically far from family supports, as we just heard. How big of a change has taken place on that front?
HUCKYou know, the Department of Defense and the military has made childcare a big priority, recognizing that service members need reliable, affordable childcare in order to focus and do their jobs. And so since the late 1980s, there's been a big push to construct child development centers on installations, there's been development of family childcare centers and there's been a real focus on quality and child development, early childhood development at these centers until -- and so now, they're really a gold standard of care that we look to with a great deal of pride.1
NNAMDIThis is one of the things you looked at too, Kavitha.
CARDOZAI was kind of surprised, in the last few years, Kojo, early childhood education in the civilian world has -- I mean, the debate has just been reaching, right? I never heard anything about military childcare and they've, you know, kind of -- they were called the ghetto of American childcare, about 30 years ago. And they managed to transform an entire system, why are we not hearing about this? They pay their teachers more, they have unannounced inspections, they have mandatory training, they have to be certified or accredited. I mean, they have a lot of systems in place. I would think like, we should like, learn more about them.
NNAMDIWell, we are learning more about it from the documentary that will be airing this Friday that you've done Kavitha Cardoza. As I said, you can find a link to that at our website, kojoshow.org. In many ways, this issue of childcare is about readiness. Let's listen to one provider explain how the two are linked.
FEMALEWhether they're on the rifle range, firing or they're qualifying, it requires them to concentrate on exactly what's happening so that they'll be prepared for their ultimate goal which is going to war. I can't go and train if I'm worrying about whether or not my child is well cared for.
NNAMDIKavitha, you spoke with a lot of military childcare professionals. How stark is the difference between their experience and that of civilian care givers?
CARDOZAI mean, it was like night and day, all the experts I interviewed, the providers -- a lot of the providers at the military childcare centers had worked in civilian childcare centers. And they said it was -- I mean, they're allowed to train -- they are paid more, the more they train. And the training is during their work hours, it's not outside. And so they were like, well, they pay us to make more money, why wouldn't we do it? They were very appreciative of the support they got.
CARDOZAThe Department of Defense is working with universities to come up with a curriculum, they're working with states to make legislative changes saying, we will give you money for childcare, for our service members, you know, free assistance, service members can use but they can only be used in childcare centers that have our military standards. And so they say, they are trying to kind of force -- not force, that's the wrong word. They're trying to make change, increase their standards by doing that.
NNAMDIWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on military children. But you can still call us at 800-433-8850. If you are current or former teacher, how aware are you or how aware were you about the military kids in your class? Have you had to help a child through a stressful situation involving moving? How did you and how did that child cope, 800-433-8850? You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on military children. We're talking with Kavitha Cardoza, special correspondent at WAMU 88.5 News. The latest edition of her "Breaking Ground" documentary series focuses on military children and airs this Friday at 1:00 p.m., here on WAMU 88.5, during which Kavitha will be live-tweeting. Also joining us in studio is Eileen Huck, deputy director of government relations with the National Military Family Association.
NNAMDIShe's also a Navy spouse and a mom. Anita Chandra is senior policy researcher and director of the Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment Division at RAND, where's she been exploring issues related to military families. We've been inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Inviting you to send email to email@example.com. Here's Greg, in Washington, D.C. Greg, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GREGHi. I actually work at a nonprofit organization called Our Military Kids. What we do is we provide grants for children to participate in extracurricular activities. And we found that about 84 percent of kids are dealing with increased stress and anxiety during a deployment. And by being able to participate in extracurricular activities, it's going to eliminate or reduce some of that stress for 98 percent of these kids. So getting involved and staying active in sports or fine arts is incredibly beneficial to the mental health of these kids.
NNAMDIHave you been finding any of that in your research, Anita?
CHANDRASure, absolutely. We've had the chance to evaluate some of the programs, including Operation Purple, which is sponsored by the National Military Family Association. And we have found these kinds of peer support activities, just enrichment activities, not only important for mental health and emotional well-being, but really important for connecting kids to each other, so that they can talk and communicate and feel comfortable to talk about the various stresses in their life.
CHANDRAThese are increasingly important, not simply from the military support side, but from all of the civilian nonprofit organizations that are nested in communities where military families live.
NNAMDIGreg, thank you very much for your call. We've talked before about being thoughtful to the kinds of questions one asks military members, and the true is same (sic) of their children. Eileen, for civilians who encounter a military child, whether in the classroom or at, oh, a play date, what's your best advice on how or whether to engage them on the topic of being a military child?
HUCKThat's a great question. I think the important thing to remember when we're talking about military kids, that these are just kids who might have some unique challenges and unique experiences, but they are just kids. I think it's important for teachers and coaches and other adults in their lives to be aware of what the family might be experiencing, whether it's a deployment or an upcoming move.
HUCKAnd it's certainly fine to raise those subjects with kids. Most kids are really proud of their parents' service, and eager to talk about it. And that's something that we, as a community, always appreciate when the civilians in our lives recognize that.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about the date situation. Maybe Tiffany, in Alexandria, Va., can help us to talk about that. Tiffany, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIFFANYHi. I am a military child. My mother and father were both in the Air Force. And now I'm an active duty officer in the Navy. And it was -- I did not understand -- I thought everybody lived like I lived. I thought everybody moved around. I thought -- and I didn't see the difference until I went to college, actually graduated from DoD school, DoD high school, in Okinawa, Japan.
TIFFANYThe popular kids were the kids that were very active in sports or music. They had outstanding grades. All of my teachers had at least a master's degree. And I had been in the public school system my whole life, until then. And I remember I couldn't figure out what noise was. It was like a -- someone ringing a doorbell. And then I saw everybody get up to walk out of class and I realized, oh, that's the bell to change class. Okay. This is totally different, you know.
NNAMDIAnd then when it came to dating -- talk about that.
TIFFANYOh, in dating?
TIFFANYOh, boy. Okay. So I will say I had no understanding of cultural -- I -- cultural differences, in the sense that it never occurred to me that you don't date this person because they're this race or they're this cultural background. That never ever, ever occurred to me. However, it's very hard to, you know, my counterparts that grew up in the same city for 20 years and they know the person they went to prom with and they can go back and see those old people they dated with. I don't have any of that.
TIFFANYAnd it's very different because those type of roots, I don't necessarily have. Like I don't (unintelligible) with anybody.
NNAMDISo you have to organize your life somewhat differently.
TIFFANYI organize my life -- my life was organized very differently. I'll never have that high school reunion. My prom was not like a typical prom. There was no limo, you know. And the dating, I tell you what the fad was, the fad was to -- you were hot stuff if you were dating a Marine. (unintelligible) and if you were a young, you know, 17, the big thing was to date, you know, like a 19-year-old Marine.
NNAMDIWell, we're running out of time quickly, but did you?
TIFFANYNo. I ended up dating on the down-low, a 19-year-old corpsman sailor. And…
NNAMDIHow did that work out for you?
TIFFANYIt didn't because my mom and dad tore my tail up. It was…
NNAMDIWell, we do have to move on, but thank you so much for sharing that with us. Kavitha, once they get to school age, most military children attend public schools, but some do attend DoD-run schools. What surprised you most about the experience at DoD-run schools from the educator's perspective?
CARDOZAI think the number one thing was the length of service. Again, I mostly cover an urban school district, where there's a lot of turnover, both with principals and teachers. And over here they were saying, oh, 24 years, 17 years, like, to me it was just inconceivable. And the second thing was they have teachers' unions and time and time again I saw the union members and the management -- school management -- get along really well.
CARDOZAI mean when you think of why unions were formed and what the point was originally, and this was like great. They were doing what they were meant to do, collaborating three, four times a day, talking, you know, asking each other for advice on every little detail about school. It was really good to see.
NNAMDIWhen I listened to the report, one of the things that struck me was one of the principals you talked to who said they had virtually no discipline problems. When they had one they called the parents, the parents would simply say -- the parents would not say, "You're picking on my kid." They would simply say, "I'll handle it." And it was generally handled.
CARDOZAOh, the principal of that school said, you know, in the military you are expected to manage your family. And if your child is misbehaving, it means you don't have a handle on your family. And so you can get disciplined. And so one expert called it the punishment, powerful in its potential, but not in actually being used. Because just the fear your parents can be, I mean, imagine thinking, Kojo, if your parent could lose their jobs or could be disciplined for what you were doing. I mean, I think I would have thought twice.
NNAMDIIt wouldn't have bothered me. Anita, when it comes to the school (unintelligible) how much choice do families have about whether to send their children to DoD-run schools or either public or private schools in any given community?
CHANDRAYou know, just like any other parents, families have choice based on kind of income and location and geography, but still most of our families are putting their kids in public schools. I mean, those are the ones that are available to them. Not all of the communities in which military families are living are close by to a DoD or DoDEA school. So those choices are limited by those kinds of constraints.
CHANDRASo I think more often we should always remember that most of these children are in the public school system. Some who, perhaps, are fortunate or have access maybe in some private schools or parochial schools. But more often than not they're in public school districts.
NNAMDIHere's Nick, in Arlington, Va., to talk about that. Nick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICKThank you for taking my call. And thanks for talking about this subject. It's near and dear to me, as I grew up a military brat. I actually kind of wanted to talk about the public school system, as I -- that was where I spent most of my education for growing up. I spent most of my time bouncing around. I actually grew up and went to 10 different schools.
NICKAnd when my family made the move from Florida to Virginia -- pardon me -- the school system was -- had a lot better quality assurance it seemed in Virginia. And I wasn't able to kind of charm my way through the grades that I was in Florida. So I had a pretty rude awakening when I got to the Mid-Atlantic. And that was all.
NNAMDIThat's something you can talk about Eileen Huck.
HUCKWell, it's definitely true that kids can experience a lot of academic challenges, so to speak, when they move from one school district to another. And we're very pleased that the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children has been adopted by all 50 states and D.C. And that's an agreement between states to ease some of the transitions that kids face when they transition between states and school districts. And so if you have different entrance ages, if you have different …
HUCK…special needs, this Compact will -- allows the school districts to work together to ease this transition for military kids. Now, as far as Nick not getting his homework done while he was in Florida, that's a whole different thing. That's not addressed by the Compact.
CARDOZAI did hear a lot of teachers, though, say they know certain states, when kids come from there, the academic standards are very different. Or they have to learn -- repeat credits, like, oh, they've learned Virginia history and now they have to learn Texas history and now it's, you know, so there are a lot of issues because it hasn't -- the Compact is in place, but a lot of times people on the ground don't know about it. It's still…
HUCKThe implementation, yeah.
NNAMDIHere's Ben, in Berryville, Va. Ben, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BENHi. Well, thank you very much. So my grandfather was Army Corps of Engineers. And then he ended up working for the railroad and so my dad moved 16 times by the time he was 18. And he found that if he -- he learned to play the tuba at a young age, and every local band always needed a good tuba player because nobody wanted to play the tuba.
BENBut in terms of -- I'm wondering how the military is approaching the Common Core, in terms of coordinating their curriculum with the Common Core. And, you know, I'm thinking that all things being equal, you talk about this problem with extra resources being needed for kids who come from certain states. Do you think the Common Core -- whether or not it's adopted by a state -- will eventually became a factor in BRAC closings?
BENAll things being equal, the military likes efficiency.
CARDOZAI'll answer the first part of the question, the Common Core is -- the DoD schools are adopting it. They think it'll help children who move from state to state frequently. And next academic year it will be in place in all DoD schools.
HUCKI think your question raises a larger point that the DoD has a responsibility to support the public schools in the districts that are educating their kids. So, you know, to question whether a school quality will play into BRAC closings, I think that's, you know, that's not something that the military is considering, but certainly the DoD is aware that these public schools are, you know, taking on a lot of extra kids, when you're talking about a large military installation. And the DoD has a responsibility to support those schools.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. We're discussing military children. Kavitha, one thing we hear often in coverage of public schools is concern about the achievement gap. I learned, listening to your report, that that seems to be less of an issue in DoD-run schools.
CARDOZAThey not only do really well, academically, yes, the achievement gap between Black/White students and Hispanic/White students is, like, significantly less than the general population. And I spoke to a researcher who felt that it was because in the military, you know, you go through system of tests and training where race is not important. They desegregated schools in the '50s, before sometimes the civilian communities did, because they felt they could not have a cohesive military unit if the children were going to segregate at school.
CARDOZAAnd so she believed that this sets a standard of high expectations where children do not, like, race does not have, you know, play as big a part. It's not perfect, but it does set high expectations. And she thinks that's one of the reasons.
NNAMDIEileen, in terms of education, what are the biggest challenges when it comes to insuring that kids who might move six or more times on average get a solid education in public schools? Same question to you, too, Anita.
HUCKI think that, I mean, Kavitha alluded to it -- that the sequencing can be different, the course sequencing can be different. The standards are different. This is particularly pronounced when we have children who are in high school, who moved midway and need to get -- and you need to get credits to graduate in one -- in the system where they're going to end up. So I think that because there is so much difference in school standards and school curriculum as we move from state to state, that can definitely pose a challenge to kids as they move, particularly in the later years.
CHANDRAJust a couple of additions. One, we certainly know that children with special educational needs or health needs, sometimes have difficulty when they move state to state to get the kind of developmental assessments that make sure that they're in the right classes with the right teachers and the right supports. The Compact is helping with that, but there's certainly more room to grow.
CHANDRAAnd the other piece of this is no simply the academic standards, but insuring that we kind of have the mental health and emotional supports that children need as they're weathering stress of life, deployment stress and the like, that could have an impact on their academic outcomes. And that's some of the things that we've explored, just insuring that they have the full wrap-around set of services in the school system.
CARDOZAI also wanted to say, Kojo, if you're a military child, you have access to, like, online tutoring for free. So that's something to try and help these kids. But also a large population of kids are homeschooled in the military. The kind of -- in the general population it's about 3 percent. And in the military it's -- the estimates are up to 10 percent because that's one way these children have, you know, some kind of consistency when everything else around them is moving.
NNAMDIAllow me to read a fairly long email from Lila, in Fairfax, because I think it's relevant. "Being a military family for the last 19 years has provided me with professional opportunities I never could have imagined. And I've been able to take advantage of those opportunities and build a successful career. My children have also benefitted and are more empathetic and outgoing than they might have been if they'd grown up with one set of friends.
NNAMDI"My husband has deployed six times, including currently. And lost his best friend to an IED attack when the boys were five years old. The most notable impact this has had was that one of my sons processed this by wanting to talk about it a lot. This worked well in our DoDEA elementary. The principal talked to my son about her dad's war experience. But was very disconcerting to the civilian teachers they had right at the time.
NNAMDI"Supporting civilian schools remains a high need. And will continue to pose issues as long as there are children of service members who are serving in conflict zones." Care to comment, Anita?
CHANDRAThat is a common thing that we've seen, certainly in our research. There are organizations that have been dedicated to this work, Military Child Education Coalition, NMFA, among others, to try and educate teachers, school counselors in civilian schools about what it means to be a military child, what it means to be a military family. Part of this is just not knowing who's military, but also not understanding that experience.
CHANDRAAnd the more that we can educate and provide a comfortable space for civilian educators to understand that experience, the better. Those online tools, those in-person trainings that those organizations are conducting are critical, particularly given the number of children who are located in those schools.
NNAMDIEileen, you mentioned the Interstate Compact. What else remains to be done to insure smooth transitions throughout the K-12 years for these students?
HUCKThe main thing that has to be done with regard to the Interstate Compact is just raising awareness. As I mentioned earlier, we're very pleased that it's been passed, legislatively, in all 50 states, plus D.C. But we find that a large number of teachers and school administrators, not to mention military families, aren't aware of it or what it can do to help smooth the transition. So we're very focused on raising awareness of the Compact and how it can help ease transition issues by addressing eligibility for special needs programs, entrance ages and other similar issues that have, in past years, been a barrier to military kids as they transition. Kavitha, did you...
CARDOZAI wanted to say, you know, I spoke to a researcher who talked about public schools and he said he was studying Israeli and Palestinian schools after the second Lebanese war. Both had had a lot of rocket fire. And they said school -- they found that some kids were doing fine. And so, in both, you know, Israeli and Palestinians both. So what was the difference? They said schools were acting like a kind of vaccine or giving them a protective factor when they recognize military kids.
CARDOZAWhen they let children talk about their experiences, he said it can be something as simple as a hero board as you walk into a school. It can be like stand up and everyone applauding if your parents are serving. I mean, something as simple as that. But to make children feel, you know what, it's not -- you're not out there or your experience is not out there, it's all of us. You were doing it for all of us, to make those connections.
NNAMDITalking about moving around a lot, Rebecca in Silver Spring, Md. wants to talk about the effect of that on her life. Rebecca, you're on the air, go ahead please.
REBECCAHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I think everybody is focusing a lot on, you know, a lot of the problems that military schools and I definitely had my complaints, especially as a teenager. But the one thing I'm incredibly thankful for is we moved so frequently -- I moved six times between fifth and sixth grade alone -- that when it came to go to college and take opportunities my college provided, I was often the first person in line. I wasn't scared at all of a change of scenery or being around people I didn't know. And it's led to a lot of great opportunities in my life.
CHANDRAWe found that time and time again in our research that the ability to connect with peers quickly, forge relationships, try new experiences, that's certainly going to serve military children well as they transition to adulthood. And this really goes back to that notion of resilience and the capacity that military children often have. It'll be important to continue to follow what happens to children as they become adults.
NNAMDINot just resilience, Rebecca, but it seems to have created a kind of wanderlust in you, is that correct?
REBECCAOh, by far -- I think my partner said I'd go crazy if we move again. But even since -- since undergrad I think I physically switched, like, places I lived or paid rent every year since 2000 -- or every two years since 2001 when I graduated high school. I just like the change of scenery and I like even changing my roommates not because there was a falling out, but because I find that getting to know new people just makes my life experience richer.
NNAMDIOkay, thank you very much for sharing that with us. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on military children, but you can still call us at 800-433-8850. Do you think it's easier for younger kids to adapt to change than it is for teens? What issue area do you see as the biggest overall challenge for military families when it comes to their children? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on military children. We're talking with Kavitha Cardoza, special correspondent at WAMU 88.5. The latest edition of her "Breaking Ground" documentary series focuses on military children. You can hear the entire documentary at 1:00 pm on WAMU 88.5 this Friday. You can also find a link to it at our website, kojoshow.org. And during the broadcast at 1:00 pm on Friday, Kavitha will be live tweeting. You can go to her @kavithacardoza.
NNAMDIEileen Huck is deputy director of government relations with the National Military Family Association and a Navy spouse and a mom. Anita Chandra is senior policy researcher and director of the Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment Division at RAND. She has been exploring issues related to military families. Kavitha, the emotional aspects of dealing with deployments and moves can take a toll on kids. And teachers and other adults have to be on the lookout for the signs of stress. Let's listen to one mother that you talked to explaining how this -- how this anxiety manifested at school.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMANWell, my son will say his stomach was hurting and the teacher he started laying down a lot on the floor. And I said, yeah, I don't know why he's doing out. We'll come to find out from the counselors, he was just missing my husband and he didn't know, I guess, how to say I miss daddy.
CARDOZAPinya (sp?) says she reassured her son all the time, but...
WOMANAs much as we went through it on a map, this is where daddy is, you know, he's over the Atlantic Ocean, he's over here, he said, daddy's lost.
NNAMDIWhat kinds of tools have parents, teachers, and therapists come up with to help these kids cope with emotions and concepts that are tough even for many adults, Eileen?
HUCKI think it really varies by age what works. With kids who are old enough to understand where daddy or mommy is, technology is a wonderful tool. You know, you are able to Skype or Facetime with mom or dad and that can make a big difference. With younger kids it's really very challenging because they lack the capacity to really understand the -- where the parent is, why they went away and when they're coming back.
HUCKSo it's just important to understand that behavioral -- acting out or regressing may be related to that deployment or, you know, the -- or the return of the parent, which can be upsetting in it's own way.
NNAMDIKavitha, you talked with Emily who cuts herself and threatens suicide because it was stress and anxiety she experienced from feeling alienated.
CARDOZAI mean, just a lovely, thoughtful, amazing young girl. And she said that on her first day of school she moved -- have lived abroad for so many years and travelled and had a wonderful family, moved to the small rural community in Virginia and she said on her first day of school someone came to her and said, oh, what's your favorite food. And she said seaweed. And they were like, ugh. And she was like, I felt so foolish. I felt terrible. No one understood me.
CARDOZAI mean, it was very hurtful to her. And at that age, you know, a lot of the callers we've had are saying that they had wonderful experiences and I totally agree. But I think sometimes it can be when you look back. As an adult you realized the value of those experiences. When you're a teenager, you want to do what everyone else is doing and to fit in and not see any difference. And she felt really misunderstood.
NNAMDILindsay in Washington, D.C. You're turn, Lindsay. You're on the air, go ahead please.
LINDSAYHi, thank you so much for taking my call. I just wanted to comment particularly to the issue of young children and young families having to deal with deployments, redeployment, post-deployment stress. A colleague of mine, Dr. Linda (word?) and I researched something called the Sesame Workshop Talk, Listen and Connect initiative. And what that did is it kind of used Elmo to sort of mend the processes that these families go through and to kind of give them a model to have these conversations.
LINDSAYBecause I think one of the things that we often fail to consider is that it's not just the children who have to develop these coping strategies, but also, you know, often parents, particularly if it's their first deployment don't really have any foundation or education in order inform, you know, have a talk to their kids about these things or what questions their kids may have. So I just wanted to raise that and see if any of you has been aware of it.
HUCKFirst of all, I would like to echo what you said about the Sesame Street -- Sesame Workshop program. Talk, Listen, Connect is wonderful. And Sesame Workshop has just done wonderful things for -- programs for military children and military families to give the small children especially tools for understanding what their emotions are communicating them. And I would also say that the Department of Defense has developed some programs to help families cope with some of these emotions.
HUCKThe FOCUS program, which is Families OverComing Under Stress, which we find that some family readiness centers at installations across the country are workshops to help parents and children learn to understand their emotions and cope with their emotions and develop resiliency. And our association, I would remise if I didn't mention that we have a series of programs to help kids who are coping with deployments and also families who are reconnecting following a deployment.
HUCKThere are Operation Purple Camps for kids and family retreats for families and they utilize a lot of these same techniques for how -- we actually are partnering with the FOCUS program to help families, again, manage their emotions and develop resiliency to handle some of these stresses.
NNAMDIThe "our association" Eileen refers to is the National Military Family Association. Kavitha, many younger kids might tote around a daddy bear or a mommy doll to help them cope. Let's hear from Isys (sp?) who you met at Fort Bragg about hers.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDMy dad has been blown up, shot and it gets me scared that he might not come back.
CARDOZAAnd how do you deal with it?
CHILDWell, on his first deployment, he came back with this thing we call a daddy bear. It's a bear that has his voice recorded in it. And every time I miss him, I just press the button and it talks to me.
CARDOZAWhat does it say?
CHILDIt's just saying how much he loves me and how much he's proud of me in what I've accomplished.
NNAMDITechnology. A lot of that is being used to help families cope in these situations with the absence of loved ones.
CARDOZARight. There are programs to record a book and send it back to your child, the daddy bears and the dolls which are little stuffed dolls with a picture of your parent in their military uniform, which the little kids carry around. Like Eileen said, Google Hangout, Skype. I did a Google Hangout with some children down in Texas, which is on our website. And that's -- just to see what it was like, like what is that experience like. Texting.
CARDOZASo there are a lot of it -- nothing though -- Kojo, when you hear that little girl's voice, nothing compares to having your parent in the same place as you are. It helps, but...
NNAMDIAnita, military families face the same stresses any family does. And for many military spouses, employment is a challenge and they're often coping with the same anxieties and fears that their kids are. How does that impact their children?
CHANDRASure. Well, we know that parents and their mental health, how they're coping with stress has profound implications for child well-being. And certainly when we've presented those findings, particularly to military moms and parents at home, that's been very compelling for them because they may not be taking the time for themselves, but they certainly take the time for their children.
CHANDRAAnd it's just as important to spend time, take respite care opportunities, connect with others, maybe be engaged in the workplace, which can have restorative benefits for mental health. All of those things are not only critical to that individual parent's well-being, but the overall well-being of that family.
NNAMDIKavitha, the stress of returning from deployment cannot compare to the loss of a military parent. Some children's parents just do not return. What did you hear from the children and their surviving parents about how they cope?
CARDOZAI went to a TAPS camp in Philadelphia and I met a lot of these children. And it was just heartbreaking. I think the number thing is for a lot of these children, they just want to know they're not alone. And so, some of the counselors or some of the children, you'd hear them say, oh, my gosh, mommy, that little girl has a badge as well with her daddy's face. He died, too. They just feel like, oh, my God, I'm not alone.
CARDOZAA lot of the teenagers they want to feel -- you know, one girl said, you know, no one back home understands because they'll say, oh, my grandmother died too, but my dad is different. He was going to walk me down the aisle someday. These children, like, face such an incredible loss. And then to feel like no one else understands -- often if they live on a military base, they can't live on the military base anymore.
CARDOZASo that can be extremely hard. One child move from Fort Drum in New York to Minnesota, rural Minnesota. She was like -- her mom said it was cultural shock. There are a lot of these challenges. There's also a big challenge -- a growing need -- in these camps, Kojo, a third of the children now have lost a parent to suicide.
NNAMDII was about to say the off-sighted estimate is that 22 veterans kill themselves in the U.S. each day, additional emotional challenges.
CARDOZAIt's heartbreaking. I mean, so the children are -- in a lot of these cases, the children themselves discover their parent. I mean, can you imagine what that does and how do you understand it with these children. They want their parents to be heroes, right? So they often ask, oh, well, you know, their mom or their dad died. Did he jump on a bomb and save his buddies? Did he -- you know, they want to be able to tell that narrative. And they don't understand, well, why would he do it to himself? Or why would she do it to herself? It's very, very hard to explain it to children.
NNAMDIThere are both emotional and practical considerations. We got a tweet from Martha who asks, "How are resources continued or suspended for military kids if parents are killed in action or discharged due to PTSD, et cetera?" Eileen?
HUCKThey're kind of two different questions. Of course, if a service member is killed, his or her family continues to receive benefits from the Department of Defense. If they're living in installation housing, they continue to live in installation for, I think, it's up to one year following the -- the death of the service member. If the service member is discharged or if the service member separates from the military, unfortunately, a lot of the benefits that the family receives through the Department of Defense go away.
HUCKAnd that's a growing concern as we see more and more service members leaving the military as the military downsizes. What's -- they and their families are still feeling the aftereffects of so many years of war. What's going to happen to them and their children? And what will be the long-term effects that we as a country have to be aware of?
NNAMDIAnita, Kavitha mentioned visiting the TAPS camp. How valuable is a camp or the camps for military kids, the experience of being around other kids that they can relate to, especially if they're not part of a base community where they live?
CHANDRAAbsolutely critical. And we have evaluated some of those, including Operation Purple. And what we have found is it's not simply the connection during the week of camp or the two weeks of camp, but it's those networks. And particularly now because kids are connected virtually through all sorts of forms of media. That's how they're going to stay connected and emotionally support each other. For guard and reserve families, those children are often very distant from each other.
CHANDRAThey're in schools where they may have two or three others like them, but not a lot more. And this becomes their connection point. So these camps, these programs are vitally important perhaps now more than ever to maintain those connections as the course of our conflicts change.
NNAMDIKavitha, defense spending is always under some scrutiny. And with two wars winding down, it's likely to come under more. How much concern is there about how sustainable these support programs, these policies are if money starts to dry out?
CARDOZAI mean, I think there's a lot of concern. Everyone I spoke to, Eileen can probably take that. I will say, though, Kojo, I had that line in my documentary, wars winding down, and I -- it's not just the wars, it's humanitarian missions they've got. Now with the ISIS, you know, they're talking about boots on the ground. It's not -- it's not over.
NNAMDIEileen, you have about 10 seconds.
HUCKI just want to say, to follow-up on what Kavitha said, it's the uncertainty, I think, that is really affecting military families right now. Not knowing in the face of declining budgets what programs and services are going to be there and what are going to go away, what their future in the military might hold. I think it's definitely something that a lot of families are facing.
NNAMDIEileen Huck is deputy director of government relations with the National Military Family Association. Anita Chandra is senior policy researcher and director of the Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment Division at RAND, where she's issued -- explored issues related to military families. Kavitha Cardoza is a special correspondent at WAMU 88.5. The latest edition of her "Breaking Ground" series focuses on military children. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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