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Understanding military culture is crucial in our work with military-connected youth and families at KidsPeace. The challenges faced by military families are numerous and can be both emotional and practical in nature. With an increasing number of military youths enrolled in our residential programs at the Orchard Hills Campus in Pennsylvania, KidsPeace clinical leadership sought out training opportunities to prepare our clinical staff to better understand military culture and the stressors experienced by military-connected youth and their families.

Recently, four KidsPeace clinicians took part in the Tier One: Introduction to Military Culture, Families, and Deployment training, offered by Uniformed Services University, Center for Deployment Psychology. The training, as detailed by USUCDP, is the first of three tiers and sets the foundation for becoming a Star Behavioral Health Provider (SBHP) and serving military-connected clients through the SBHP registry. 

The daylong training introduces participants to military culture, including basics about its history, organizational structure, core values, branches of service, mission and operations, as well as the differences between the active and reserve components. Additionally, considerations for working with military-connected families are discussed, such as identifying unique experiences of military couples, spouses, and children and normative military family life stressors that may inform the experiences and clinical presentation of military-connected clients. 

The training concludes with an overview of the impact of deployment on service members and families, exploring both the unique experiences that service members and families face across the deployment cycle and psychosocial stressors associated with the stages of deployment. 

Tier One focuses on areas other than assessment and intervention, with a specific emphasis on educating providers about the factors that may impact psychological practice with military-connected clients. For KidsPeace clinicians, the training can guide them when working with military youth and families, assisting in ways to gain more information beneficial to treatment. One clinician stated, ”The training will definitely be helpful with understanding the dynamics of the military lifestyle and providing a better grasp and insight on stressors affecting the youth and their family.”

In working with military youth, the KidsPeace clinical team experiences different familial dynamics due to the unpredictability that comes with deployments and Permanent Change of Station (PCS). This unpredictability and its potential effects on youth have been underscored in recent surveys:

  • The Military Lifestyle Survey: 2022 Comprehensive Report (Blue Star Families, March, 2023) found 23% of active-military parents reported at least one school-enrolled child was receiving mental health services. An additional 16% of parents reported having a child who they would want to receive mental health services, but no such care was being provided. 
  • The National Military Family Association’s 2022 Military Teen Experience Survey reported 28% of military teens rated low on mental well-being, with 37% reporting thoughts of harming themselves or others.

With military families moving every two to three years, PCS results in approximately 500,000 military children changing schools each year. This means not only a new school, but a new home, neighborhood, and having to make new friends. A change of duty station also affects available activities for youth, and may even be in a location where the weather is completely different. 

Our clinical team shared that on two occasions military families have had a PCS move during the course of the youths’ stay at KidsPeace. A significant change such as this can further disrupt their routines and stability, especially at a time when engaged in treatment. They may struggle with a range of emotions, such as fear, loneliness and sadness. The prospects of reintegration are challenging because of so many uncertainties. In circumstances similar to these two youth, our clinicians ensure family contact is maintained through video conferencing, even including live video tours of new homes and neighborhoods.

By understanding the impact of deployment and PCS on military-connected children, and providing them with the necessary support, our clinicians can help minimize negative effects and promote resilience. It is crucial to foster a safe and nurturing environment where children feel heard, validated, and empowered to express their emotions. 

The Tier One training provided the foundation to best support the military child and family during their treatment stay with KidsPeace. Looking ahead, KidsPeace clinical leadership expects to have all clinicians attend the Tier One training, with sights set on completing the second and third tiers. The end result will be a team of professionals with a firm understanding of the military culture, standing at-the-ready to navigate the challenges faced by military-connected youth, and deliver on our mission of Hope, Help and Healing.

Chris Sylvester

Chris Sylvester joined KidsPeace in 1992 as a direct care worker at the Graham Lake Campus in Ellsworth, Maine, advancing to take on a variety of roles and responsibilities. In 2014, Chris became National Customer Relations Liaison for KidsPeace covering the Northeast Territory, which includes all of New England and New York, to ensure customers are aware of the KidsPeace Continuum of Care and the treatment services offered for youth and families.