Given the sacrifices that military personnel make, children of military families deserve to have policies and support programs designed to fit their needs. Notable examples include subsidized childcare, deployment assistance, moving assistance, child development programs, and community awareness initiatives that train and support communities in their efforts to improve the lives of military infants and toddlers. Unfortunately, many current programs for military children were implemented quickly, at a time of pressing need; thus, few are based on scientific evidence of what works, and even fewer have been evaluated for their effectiveness.
In the newly released Military Children and Families issue of the Future of Children, an overarching theme is the need for better research about military families and the programs intended to help them. Despite the overall lack of evidence-based programs, there are important directions we can take to implement the principles of best practice to improve programming.
For example, Molly Clever and David R. Segal show that military families are diverse by factors such as age, race, ethnicity, and cultural background. Rather than compelling these families to fit into a fixed and rigidly structured set of programs, we should make support programs accessible to families of all backgrounds and at all stages of life. This is challenging, but programs designed for diverse non-military families have been well researched and evaluated, and this research should help in developing flexible and adaptive programs and policies.
We can also learn from the strengths of programs that appear to be working. Major Latosha Floyd and Deborah A. Phillips recount how the military’s child-care program went from a system in distress to a model for the nation, directly serving or subsidizing care for 200,000 children every day. They tell how the success of this program rests on four pillars–military certification, national accreditation, minimum standards in hiring, and a pay scale that reduces staff turnover.
As we learn from the strengths of good programs, and as we rigorously evaluate as many programs as we can, we will be able to better support military children and families by implementing the best services possible. For more information, see the Future of Children issue on Military Children and Families.