Children in military families experience unique challenges that other children may never face, such as dealing with their deployed parent's extended absence, multiple deployments, and anxiety over his or her safe return. In some cases, both parents are deployed, and the children live with a grandparent or other close relative or friend. Children of deployed parents need a listening ear, caring support, and fun activities during these stressful times in their lives.
Responding to this need, OJJDP in fiscal year (FY) 2011 awarded a total of $20 million to the National 4H Council, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and six other organizations to support mentoring programs for military children. The U.S. Department of Defense provided this funding to OJJDP as part of a joint effort to support military families.
The FY 2011 support is already making a difference in the lives of thousands of military kids across the countryamong them, Carter Smith, age 11, and his three brothers, who are attending a 4H summer camp at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.On a recent afternoon at the base's youth center, Carter was busy at work in a LEGO robotics program, which the 4H Club launched at the request of the summer camp's children. Carter also proudly showed off a birdfeeder he had built in a recent woodworking class and that he planned to enter into a competition at an upcoming 4–H Club summer fair.
"4–H has lots of fun activities," he said. "The most important thing is it gives me a chance to forget about my worries."
The Smith boys' father, who is in the Air Force, recently returned from a deployment in Southwest Asia. Their mother, who is in the Air Force Reserve, has been at home. But that will all change in a few weeks, as both parents are soon leaving for a 6-week training. The boys' grandmother is flying in from Colorado to take care of them in their parents' absence.There are a lot of people to whom these children can turn for support, including Krisanne Miley, 23, a 4–H teacher and mentor. "I see the four Smith boys a lot. Being here, they have a comfort level. They can open up. They tell me things that they may not easily share with others."
There is also a trained Military Family Life Consultant (MFLC) who works at the Dover Air Force Base's youth center. "I see a lot because I'm here a lot," said MFLC Trish Elkin. "The kids get to know me. If we have concerns about a child, we can let their parents know, and work with the families to help."During the school year, children get homework help after school and then later participate through the 4–H Club in classes on cooking, robotics, arts and crafts, and technology.
"The great thing about the 4–H curriculum is that it's the same wherever you are in the world," said Rhonda Martell, 4–H Military Liaison in Delaware. "Military kids often have disruption in their lives, and the 4–H program ensures consistency."
A visitor's conversation with Ms. Martell was suddenly interrupted by a tug on the arm from a smiling Carter Smith.
"Do you want to see something great?" And soon after, on the lawn outside the youth center, Carter executed several perfect cartwheels.
OJJDP's Fiscal Year 2011 Mentoring Programs
Research shows that mentoring relationships can improve youth's self-esteem, instill more positive attitudes and behavior, reduce the likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse, stop violent behavior, and enhance academic performance. Recognizing these substantial benefits, OJJDP has long supported mentoring to promote successful outcomes for at-risk youth.
In fiscal year (FY) 2011, the Office awarded a total of $108 million to support mentoring programs, including $20 million from the U.S. Department of Defense to nine organizations to provide mentoring for youth with parents in the military. Other new FY 2011 mentoring initiatives focus on child victims of commercial sexual exploitation, youth with disabilities, and tribal youth. In addition, the Office continued to fund mentoring initiatives for youth reentering their communities from juvenile residential facilities. Research on best mentoring practices also remained a priority for OJJDP.
To learn more about mentoring resources, visit the Office's Web site. For more information about OJJDP's FY 2011 mentoring partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense, read the press release announcing the initiative.