Penn State initiative helping military families

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Long deployments, separations, and frequent moves can be very stressful on military families, but one Penn State program is helping families “THRIVE”.

Penn State’s Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness, in partnership with the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Office of Military Community and Family Policy, is developing the THRIVE Initiative to empower parents from the prenatal period through the age of 18.  

Daniel Perkins, director of the Clearinghouse and professor of family and youth resiliency and policy in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State explained, “The THRIVE initiative domains include positive parenting, parent and child stress management, and child health promotion and are consistent across all four age-specific skill-building program areas.”

According to Jennifer DiNallo, Clearinghouse lead research and evaluation scientist overseeing the THRIVE Initiative, developmentally appropriate programming is designed to guide parents in learning and utilizing evidence-informed parenting and health promotion strategies. “The goal is for parents to be able to foster positive youth development and resiliency at every stage of their child’s life.”

DiNallo said most existing parenting programs do not include a health promotion component. “Through our research, we discovered a need for programs to enhance parenting skills, by teaching strategies to provide opportunities to be active and eat healthy foods, as well as to monitor screen time and eliminate sweetened beverages.”

Clearinghouse researchers identified existing evidence-based parenting programs, and then integrated a health promotion component by reviewing and analyzing the existing obesity prevention and intervention literature.

Within the THRIVE Initiative, DiNallo and her team initially developed the “Grow!” program, targeting parents of elementary- aged children. The video-based curriculum is comprised of five 90-minute face-to-face sessions and includes interactive activities. Facilitators, who participate in online training developed by the Clearinghouse, administer the sessions.

“Parents leave each session with homework to practice learned skills at home with their own children,” said DiNallo. “In addition, parents receive a text-based prompt to remind them of their homework, and a link to a brief video which is designed to reinforce the skills they recently learned.”

The Clearinghouse team recently beta-tested the program in Lock Haven and Williamsport with 26 parents across both sites. Pre- and post-testing revealed positive results. “Upon completion of the program, parents reported their children played more outside,” DiNallo said. “Also, many parents revealed they adopted the stress management strategies taught in the classes, reducing their use of harsh parenting practices.”

According to DiNallo, next steps include expanding the “Grow!” program to ten military installations where there are a mix of civilian and military families. ““We’re very excited the DOD is supporting a parenting program for both civilian and military families that is grounded in evidence.”.

Additionally, a parent-friendly website is being developed that will include an online version of the “Grow!” program and other parent resources. Clearinghouse researchers are also writing content for two additional segments in the THRIVE Initiative. “Take Root!” will be an online program for parents in the prenatal through the first year, and “Sprout!” will be a face-to-face program for parents of three to five-year-olds.

The THRIVE programs will be free and available to any organization or group, and facilitator training through the Clearinghouse is also available.

For more information on the Clearinghouse other resources available to military families, visit the program’s website. The Clearinghouse is a part of Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute.

Media Contacts: 

Kristie Auman-Bauer

Work Phone: 
814-865-7011

Communications Manager

Last Updated July 28, 2017