Military families are remarkably resilient but face unique challenges related to deployment, frequent relocation and sometimes physical or invisible injuries. With the longest continuous war-zone deployment in our history, an estimated 700,000 U.S. children under age six have an active-duty parent.
Parents as Teachers (PAT), an evidence-based home visiting program, helps military moms and dads, active duty families, including reserve and veteran families to promote children’s health, development and learning and help build parenting resilience. The strengths-based approach is designed to support families and children prenatally through kindergarten.
“The military itself is a culture – the more our parent educators understand how the military functions and its impact on family dynamics, the better,” says Tammy Keith, Program Manager of the Parents as Teachers Program at the Muscogee County, University of Georgia Extension. Tammy has been providing Parents as Teachers to military families for 15 years. Her program serves military families living in Columbus and Fort Benning, Georgia. The program is partially funded through the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV).
Parents as Teachers has a focus on child development, family well-being and parent-child interaction during every personal visit. “We spend a lot of time strengthening parenting skills, providing social and resource connections. Some of our military moms and spouses with babies are very isolated,” continues Keith.
“One mom in my program is a military spouse and an immigrant. She was totally isolated from family support. When her spouse was deployed it was even more difficult.” The mom was strengthening her English skills and did not drive. “At first, we met once a week to make sure she and the children were ok.” Since then, the mom has thrived, has gone back to school, and frequently attends group connections offered by Parents as Teachers. Groups provide social support and peer learning experiences for families that are geographically dispersed or separated from service or no longer have their “military family” close by.
Tammy reports that the mom has recently completed a bachelor’s degree in early childhood and her husband retired from the Army after 20 years of service. “She’s really built up her confidence in parenting. I was a military mom too, so I know how isolating it can be,” says Keith. “We’re so grateful for the support that our military families have received from the federal MIECHV program, we’ve been able to increase the number of families we serve because of it,” says Keith.