FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Medical, social work and education professionals gathered at McChord Air Force Base last week for a summit on taking care of military children.

Madigan Army Medical Center hosted the three-day event, called "Military Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health and Well-Being During Wartime and Beyond," to "bring together military families, youth and medical experts in various areas to focus on solutions that will enhance the quality of life for military children," according to a MAMC press release.

There has been little official research during previous conflicts on how deployments and wartime affect children, said Maj. Eric Flake, a developmental pediatrician at MAMC. Flake was also the principal investigator for a research study titled "Psychosocial Effects of Deployment on Military Children," which found, in part, that military support was an influential factor in how much stress a family experienced during a deployment. The more supported a family felt, the less stress it experienced, Flake said.

During the current conflicts, much research and many programs have been developed to help mitigate stress issues in families, particularly those with children, during deployments. The conference was a way to get care providers together to talk about those programs.

"You're going to hear a lot of folks doing fantastic things with research and programs," said Maj. Keith Lemmon, an adolescent medicine specialist at MAMC. "Our hopes are that a conference like this will, at an early stage, allow people to cross over, integrate, talk about what they're doing, even collaborate."

Attendees heard presentations from experts across the nation, both military and civilian, on research initiatives, program initiatives and discussions on collaboration and coordinated care.

Madigan officials are also planning to take the care of military children and adolescents a step further with the Military Child and Adolescent Center of Excellence at Madigan Army Medical Center.

"The concept behind the Center of Excellence is that we need to develop an infrastructure for the diverse amount of programs and policies and research that is going on all across the country both in military and civilian institutions," Lemmon said. "Right now it's scattered across the country, so we'd like to pull that together within the military framework."

The Center of Excellence will be a "go-to center" for care providers within the Department of Defense who work with children and teens to learn about prevention and behavioral health, Lemmon said.

The center will have two branches: one will be responsible for developing new child-specific intervention programs; the other will analyze existing programs in the community, extract the best practices and work on standardizing them for use in the military, Lemmon said.

The project is currently awaiting the Army surgeon general's approval for funding, which will come from the Army's PTSD TBI/Behavioral Health Integration Program.

Rachel Young is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri June 13th, 2008 at 11:27