Fort Lewis workshops to help children cope
November 6, 2008
By Don Kramer
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Parents struggling with children's fears about deployments now have a place to share their challenges, thanks to a new Army Community Services workshop series that started Oct. 27.
Children and Deployment Workshops for Parents aim at helping children accept and better understand a parent's absence because of military deployments.
With most units currently back on station at Fort Lewis from combat zones, ACS has timed kicking off the series to begin before the next cycle of unit departures.
The intent was for the program to gain momentum before the biggest demand hits, said Wayne Johnson, ACS mobilization and deployment manager.
"The reality is it depends what is going on at Fort Lewis," Johnson said. "(Units) are just now starting to think about deploying again, so we're starting to get briefing requests. In the near future, we assume this (workshop) will be very popular."
The ideal, according to an ACS promotional flyer, is "to anticipate and defuse potential problems by planning ahead." The workshop helps families learn ways of discussing the challenges and problems deployments often bring. They are designed to prepare parents for questions their children might have leading up to deployment as well as issues that arise during their parents' absence.
"This is a workshop," said Pamela Allen, the mobilization and deployment specialist with six years experience in military children's issues at another installation, "not a structured briefing or class. They need to be able to voice their concerns. That helps the parent and in turn, the child."
As such, Allen, the primary facilitator, said each session is different, depending on the needs of the parents. Sharing in the sessions often begins slowly, Johnson said, but one experience shared among parents reminds others of their own similar concerns. Inevitably, participation builds.
"We want this to be a very open forum for all the families," Allen said.
To encourage openness, facilitators assure the parents that everything said and done during the workshops is kept in confidence.
"I always say this is like Vegas," Allen said. "What's said in this room, stays in this room."
Licensed family life consultants also participate and reinforce the confidentiality of the sessions.
"That's what they're all about," Johnson said. "There's no record keeping. It's informal. And that's what we're trying to do."
The FLCs give professional social-service perspectives to the sessions. Should an attendee desire follow-up, the consultants are available for free one-on-one interaction at the end of the workshops or by appointments later.
The Children and Deployment Workshop for Parents is one of four interrelated programs "to give them all the resources and assistance that's possible," Allen said.
The others include Reunion Workshops, Pre-deployment Workshops and even an Emergency Preparedness Workshop.
The ACS staff receives steady requests for literature, videos, and briefings for all of the issues covered in the workshops. They share information regularly with local schools with military children.
"We provide whatever is available to help military children," Johnson said, "from family readiness groups to local schools. I've actually delivered information all the way out to Eatonville."
It is important to address the issue of deployments with children, Allen said, and not take their feelings for granted.
"People say children are resilient," she said, but they're only resilient when parents positively reinforce the mechanisms that help them cope with their fears.
For information about the workshop, call 967-8430.
Don Kramer is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.