Penn State receives grant to improve care for military children

March 16, 2011

University Park, Pa. -- Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences has received a grant from the Department of Defense through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture to help prepare the children of military families to be successful as they enter the school system by increasing the quality of their early care and educational experiences.

Part of a three-year program spearheaded by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Child Care and Youth Training and Technical Assistance Project aims to create and deliver professional-development programming for practitioners in 13 states who provide care for school-age and younger children. The focus is on increasing the quality of care for children from birth to age 12 from military families who live off-installation.

The project dovetails with a recently announced Obama administration initiative to strengthen military families. As part of this initiative, the Extension-Military Partnership, a joint effort of the departments of Agriculture and Defense, identified strengthening family, child-care and youth-development programs as a key focal point. This partnership involves land-grant institutions and their extension programs from across the country.

Penn State was chosen to participate in the new project in large part due to Penn State Cooperative Extension's highly successful Better Kid Care program, which has been serving Pennsylvania's child-care givers for more than 20 years.

"This project builds upon the expertise and professional-development programs already established in the Better Kid Care program," said Claudia Mincemoyer, associate professor of agricultural and extension education and director of Better Kid Care. She pointed out that Pennsylvania child-care providers participate in more than 100,000 hours of professional-development experiences annually through Better Kid Care.

Mincemoyer noted that military families not living on a military base -- including those in the Reserve and National Guard -- may lack the same support systems and services available to families stationed at established military installations.

"Through the Cooperative Extension network and the use of technology, we can extend our reach nationally to support those child-care professionals who are caring for and supporting children from military families," she said.

As part of the newly funded project, Mincemoyer and the Better Kid Care staff will expand the scope of the program to 13 states nationwide that were targeted for their high percentage of military families: Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Vermont and Washington.

The grant money will be used to further develop distance-learning modules, social media outlets and other resources for caregivers of military families in these states. The project also will provide assistance to military spouses and others in the community who are interested in starting a child-care business, increasing the availability of child care and the potential employability of military spouses.

"Military families often face unique challenges, such as deployment of one or both parents, loss of income and frequent relocation," said Mincemoyer. "Under these circumstances, children may enter school unprepared academically and socially. We're offering assistance to the professionals who serve families and children connected to any branch of the military in hopes of helping service members and their children overcome these obstacles."

Also participating in the project are four Penn State Extension educators who will help provide community-based trainings in the 13 target states. They are Cynthia Pollich (Centre County), Nancy Stevens (Montgomery County), Frasier Zahniser (Mercer County) and Jacque Amor-Zitzelberger (Clearfield County).

Mincemoyer said although Pennsylvania is not one of the states initially targeted in the project, it will benefit from the educational programs being developed. Content will be used by extension educators in Pennsylvania to deliver professional-development programs to practitioners who provide care for school-age and younger children.

More information can be obtained by visiting the Better Kid Care program at http://betterkidcare.psu.edu or by calling 800-452-9108.

The project is one of several Penn State initiatives being led by faculty and staff in the College of Agricultural Sciences in support of military children and families. Daniel Perkins, professor of agricultural and extension education, is principle investigator for the Penn State Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness, which will synthesize existing and emerging research and identify effective programs to bolster family functioning, including communication, problem solving, emotional expression, cohesion, parenting, marital quality and coping.

In addition, Operation: Military Kids, administered by Penn State Extension's 4-H youth-development program, provides children of deployed service members with a variety of activities -- including camps and special events -- and opportunities to interact with other military children.

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Last Updated March 21, 2011