Clearinghouse uses rigorous research to offer the best for military families

Considering Penn State’s long history of working with the U.S. military, the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness has only been in existence for a very short time.

But in those six years, this applied research center has been working at a feverish pace to ensure that military families are getting the most effective support programs. More than 1,200 programs for military families have been vetted as researchers gauge the effectiveness of services from suicide prevention initiatives to after-service reintegration support to drug counseling. What started with a staff of four is now a platoon of 65.

“As a land-grant university, Penn State has always been about taking information and applying it,” said Daniel Perkins, director of the clearinghouse and professor of family and youth resiliency and policy. “The mission is really about using science to make life better, using science to make decisions from a practical standpoint. I think Penn State has demonstrated that time and time again.”

In addition to program evaluations, researchers often assist providers in improving their programs, and the clearinghouse offers access to myriad web-based presentations, publications, webinars and informative links. A live chat from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday offers quick access to information for groups and individuals who provide services to military families.

“I’m so fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to tap into their vast resource network and share in their expertise for the benefit of military families."

-- Lt. Col. Wendy Travis

Those families, Perkins said, face the typical stresses of family life compounded by intense job pressures, deployments and frequent moves. He added that the clearinghouse’s work is strengthening programs that benefit civilians as well in areas such as smoking cessation, adolescent drug use and bullying.

“Our mission is easy to get,” said Perkins. “We’re going to help those who are serving. We’re going to make sure they’re getting the best possible services available, whatever they are.”

Penn State has maintained a long history with the military. The Armory Building loomed large on campus from 1892 to 1964, the GI Bill led to massive growth in enrollment following World War II, and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) participation was mandatory for all freshman and sophomore males until 1962. Penn State World Campus has been lauded by the likes of U.S. News & World Report for providing exceptional online education for service members and recently opened a center at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

When evaluating programs, Perkins describes the mission as more Consumer Reports than Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Programs are vetted and categorized as either “effective,” “promising” or “unclear” based largely on the amount of evidence available to support a program’s objectives. Programs are developed by various entities, including the armed forces, academia and government, and roughly 700 of the 1,200 vetted so far have been designated as "unclear."

“If there’s no evidence about a program it doesn’t mean it’s a bad program, necessarily,” said Larry Nelson, implementation specialist and a U.S. Army veteran, who is among several employees of the center with a military background. “It just means that no one has taken the time to do the research to demonstrate that it is positive.”

Studying a program’s effectiveness takes time and resources on the part of the provider, and Perkins said there’s a lack of evidence supporting civilian-focused programs as well. The clearinghouse is helping set a higher standard.

The clearinghouse’s technical assistance team helps lead professionals toward evidence-based programs. The staff shares data and research findings as well as assisting with program implementation by providing guidance on recruiting and retaining participants, obtaining program and training materials, and finding funding sources.

The clearinghouse has worked with the Department of Defense on a parenting initiative and support program for military spouses as well as with the Air Force on an overhaul of an alcohol counseling program and in creating a compassionate care program for victims of sexual assault.

“The collaborations we worked on together significantly and positively affected the lives of Air Force members and their families,” said Lt. Col. Wendy Travis, director of policy and program evaluation for the Air Force Mental Health Division. “I’m so fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to tap into their vast resource network and share in their expertise for the benefit of military families. The work Dr. Perkins and his staff do is simply outstanding.”

The clearinghouse also creates a pipeline for the likes of doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers to obtain Continuing Education Unit credits in several programs offered by the center. Last year, more than 2,200 professionals received credits helping them meet state licensing requirements. 

According to Perkins, the clearinghouse has built a reputation on rapidly delivering high-quality practical research at a reasonable price.

“I think it’s really important for universities to be relevant, and the land-grant university should be the most relevant because its whole purpose is taking science and applying it to issues facing the world,” Perkins said. “To do that with the military just seems like the right thing to do."

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Last Updated July 28, 2017