Army Answers to Family Problems from War Dolores Johnson, director of Family Programs for the Army, says the Army is taking measures to help families better cope with the stresses of deployment and to prevent abuse. A new study shows an increase in the rate of child abuse when one parent is deployed.
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Army Answers to Family Problems from War

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Army Answers to Family Problems from War

Army Answers to Family Problems from War

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And one of the people in charge of dealing with the problem of child abuse and neglect among Army families is Dolores Johnson. She's director of Family Programs for the U.S. Army. Welcome to the program.

Ms. DOLORES JOHNSON (Director, Family Programs for the U.S. Army): Thank you.

BLOCK: And I wonder, first, if you're surprised by any of the findings of the study? Is there anything that you would dispute?

Ms. JOHNSON: No. The study is actually a very good study. And our own analysis indicates that when families are separated, that neglect cases in particular go up, which is a product of overwhelmed families, families responding to continuous deployments, and families, particularly, mothers responding to suddenly becoming single parent, where they were able to rely on two parents in the past.

BLOCK: Well, knowing the stresses the Army does have a number of family-support services that are in place. Now, do you think these might be insufficient, now that soldiers and families are facing multiple extended deployments over many years?

Ms. JOHNSON: Well, we certainly acknowledge that the continuous deployments, and certainly those that extend through 18 months, cause our families to react to the stress. In some cases, quite well, in other cases, in the families certainly that were studied where you're seeing these incidents, those are the families that we are very concerned about. But we have been shoring up our home visitation programs that specifically target to address issues like this. Parenting programs providing behavioral health specialists that can address issues of depression and other issues that one might see as we try to deal with the aftermaths of the war.

BLOCK: Do you have enough people, though, to do the kinds of programs that you're talking about - home visits, all the outreach, things that are going on?

Ms. JOHNSON: No. And the secretary of the Army and the chief of staff of the Army have both made a commitment to put funding in those programs to bring them up to the levels that will make a difference in supporting our families.

BLOCK: How many more people do you think you need?

Ms. JOHNSON: Well, it varies depending on what service you're looking at. In our Army community service center, we're looking at an excess of 400 to 500 people that we're going to be adding to the workforce. In our child development centers, we're adding personnel there. And our behavioral health specialists, meaning our psychologists and social workers, we're adding to the rolls there.

BLOCK: The study published today ends by saying that the researchers hope their information could inform the Army's policy and practice about child maltreatment. What lessons do you take from this study? And how might you apply them?

Ms. JOHNSON: Why, I think we need to provide support to our families who are here home while the soldiers deploy. And I think that also we need to say that the rate of abuse in the military is much less than it is in the civilian sector. We have been very serious about developing strategies and funding prevention programs and treatment programs to address these issues.

BLOCK: You know, it sounds from the study that the one issue hidden in these data is that it's not just the parents who are at home while the soldier's away, not just the parents who need attention, it's also children who may be acting up and showing real behavioral problems during deployments that may lead then to abuse or neglect.

Ms. JOHNSON: I certainly think that children definitely react to one of the parents being away. We are focused on figuring out what it is that we need to provide to these families and children, in particular, to help them be more resilient.

BLOCK: And what are those things seem to be that they need?

Ms. JOHNSON: I think they certainly need time away together. What the children say is that they miss their parents. They miss their fathers. So we are figuring out ways to connect fathers and mothers down range with the children left behind, so that they can send letters, e-mails, so that they stay connected and can count on periodic involvement from the parent whose down range.

BLOCK: Dolores Johnson, thanks very much for talking with us.

Ms. JOHNSON: Thank you.

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