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Macomb County, Royal Oak

January 7, 2013

Program coming to Macomb, connecting military families

STRoNG Families to unite over deployed parents

By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer

ROYAL OAK/MACOMB COUNTY — Being a child with a parent in the military can be tough, especially if the parent is deployed for months at a time.

That’s why the STRoNG Families (Support To Restore, Nurture, and Grow Families) program is focused on bringing such families together. In a few weeks, the program will expand into Macomb County, thanks to a grant that was awarded to the Royal Oak-based Judson Center.

“The STRoNG Families Program was developed at the University of Michigan and has been offered at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to families,  regardless of location of residence,” said Janet Flanegin, Judson Center’s Macomb County regional director, via email. “Families who have participated come from Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Genesee. It is our hope that, by offering it at multiple locations, the program will be more accessible to more families.”

Joanne Elkin, early literacy and early childhood consultant with Macomb Intermediate School District, said the program’s expansion into Macomb County through the MISD is made possible by Great Parents Macomb and the Macomb County Great Start Collaborative.

“The goals of the STRoNG Families program are closely aligned with those of Great Parents Macomb, particularly in one shared purpose to improve school readiness and foster the maintenance of stable families by encouraging positive parenting skills in parents of children, birth to age 5,” Elkin said via email.

The Macomb branch of the STRoNG Families program will take place in two 10-week cycles. Each weekly gathering will last two-and-a-half hours and “will provide a parent-and-child group experience designed to support and enhance the resilience of military families by creating opportunities for families to come together to learn, support one another, and grow in their ability to navigate the unique challenges they face,” Flanegin said via email.

“The intervention incorporates evidence-based strategies to reduce stress and social isolation, enhance parenting, and connect families with resources,” Flanegin said via email. “Under the MISD one-year grant project, the program will serve up to a total of 64 Macomb County families.”

The first run of the STRoNG Families program in Ann Arbor — coordinated by the University of Michigan’s Military Support Programs and Networks (M-SPAN) — took in 29 families through three cycles and was met with positive responses.

“Families tell M-SPAN that participating in the group was very valuable, and they especially describe appreciating the opportunity to connect with other military families with young children, as well as the opportunity to participate in a program together, with all family members included,” Flanegin said via email.

“Analysis of M-SPAN’s preliminary data indicates that parents are feeling more efficacious and confident in their parenting following the program, feel better prepared to handle their children’s feelings about deployment and reunification, and report reduced behavior problems in their children. In addition, M-SPAN is seeing a trend towards lower levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms.”

The M-SPAN program received federal and private funding, but Elkin is optimistic that it can be similarly helpful with the MISD program in Macomb County.

“There are 2,058 youth in military families in Macomb County and a need for intervention to support the resilience of military families with young children,” Elkin said via email. “STRoNG Families provides a 10-week parent and child group experience designed to support and enhance the resilience of military families by creating opportunities for families to come together to learn and support one another.”

Elkin said the first 10-week cycle would begin in February or March 2013. It will be co-led by an experienced STRoNG Families therapist, in partnership with Judson Center clinicians.

“Although military families display remarkable resilience in the face of multiple challenges, deployment is a significant stressor for families left behind,” Flanegin said via email. “In Michigan, the majority of military members serve in the Reserves and National Guard, and their families face the additional challenges of geographic dispersion and isolation.”

Those interested in participating in the STRoNG Families program should call Judson’s Macomb regional office at (586) 573-1810.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Chris Jackett at cjackett@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1110.