RICHMOND, Va. - The Virginia National Guard hosted a workshop here Oct. 28 to address the unique challenges facing children with loved ones serving in the U.S. military.
The workshop was conducted in partnership with the Military Child Education Coalition and brought together leaders representing Richmond and Hampton Roads area military, education, business, healthcare, faith-based, civic and social services organizations to make Virginians more aware of the challenges these children face.
Almost 80 representatives from the different community groups used the workshop to learn about the challenges military kids face and share information about what programs are currently in place, and then developed ideas for how those challenges can be addressed.
"One of the main take aways from the workshop is that we should use our family assistance centers to act as a catalyst in communities to bring leaders together to gain better awareness and to rally support to assist in that particular community to bring better awareness to our existing programs,” said Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., the adjutant general of Virginia. "We hope to build on what we learned and be able to better support our kids.”
The faith based community representatives also expressed an interest to better coordinate their efforts with the military chaplain support network. Representatives from the health care community expressed an interest in developing ways to better share information within the health care community about the specific needs of military kids.
"Our goal is to have a road map for where we want to go and how we will get the resources to help kids in Guard and Reserve families better cope with the realities of being separated from loved ones on a military deployment,” Newman said. "We hope to bring a broader understanding of the challenges our kids face and work together with leaders from different areas of society to develop ideas for how those challenges can be addressed.”
Newman said the Virginia Guard has been in discussions with MCEC for the last year to help develop programs that will address the needs of kids in all branches of service, serving in the Active Duty, Guard and Reserve components.
"While children of Guard and Reserve families may not face the frequency of moving that kids of active duty families face, they have a set of unique challenges,” Newman said. "On an active duty installation and surrounding communities, there is likely more awareness about deployments, and children can normally find others in similar situations to theirs. Teachers, counselors and school administrators are also more aware of the hardships brought on by the prolonged separation of a loved one.
"But in the case of the Guard and Reserve, a child could be the only one in their school who has a parent or sibling mobilized, and the community may not fully understand what that child is going through.”
The Virginia National Guard Family Programs Office conducts several summer camp programs for the children of Guard and Reserve families, but Newman said programs need to be developed on a larger scale to help address these issues.
"As our overseas rotations continue, we recognize that our Guard and Reserve forces will continue to see duty that takes them away from their families, so this is not an issue that will go away in the near future,” Newman said. "Our hope is to bring the success MCEC has had on a national and international level to Virginia.”
Newman said one of the most important things the Virginia National Guard can do to help ensure the continued success of our Soldiers and Airmen deployed overseas is to make sure their families are getting the support they need. "Military kids have a unique set of challenges, and we owe it to them and their families to work at raising awareness of the challenges they face,” he said. "We must also develop well- resourced programs to help them better cope with the hardship of having a loved one serving thousands of miles away, defending the ideals of freedom and democracy in a foreign land.”
The Military Child Education Coalition is the only organization focused solely on identifying and addressing the challenges faced by highly mobile military children. Through its research and training programs, MCEC increases awareness and trains education professionals, community leaders, military leaders and staff, and parents and children in addressing the challenges of mobility, and recurring deployments, as well as the challenges brought on by grief, loss and trauma.