Staff Perspective: Educational Support and Resources for Military Families

Staff Perspective: Educational Support and Resources for Military Families

In last week’s blog, my colleague April Thompson shared about military family well-being during the military-to-veteran transition. If you didn’t read it, you should definitely check it out. The military-to-veteran transition is just one of the many transitions that military families experience. In today’s blog I want to talk about another transition many active duty military families experience regularly, frequent moves, and how it impacts the education of military children. It feels like an appropriate focus given that April is the Month of the Military Child. I will also share several resources that I have found to be helpful as a psychologist, a military spouse, and a parent of a military child.

Although moving can be a common occurrence for many families, it just so happens that active duty military families move quite frequently and not always at the most opportune time. One area impacted by this is education. It is commonly reported that military children will change schools 6 to 9 times from when they enter kindergarten until they graduate high school. Although the literature on relocation and school transition for military students has mixed results, a literature review conducted by Karre and Perkins (2022) identified a variety of transition related educational risk factors: timing of the move; schedule type differences; differences in curricula/content pacing; differences in standards and exit exams; differences in state requirements; exclusions from extra-curricular activities; exclusion from gifted and talented programming; lack of military culture training for school personnel; and understaffed School Liaison program offices.

Given these challenges and potential stressors, it is not surprising that it remains a top concern for military-connected parents. In fact, the newly released 2023 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey showed that 33% of active duty family respondents reported that dependent child(ren)’s education was a top issue/concern for them. There is even more potential for stress/challenges for families with children who have special needs, to include those who need or are enrolled in special education services. Although the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) provides comprehensive and coordinated support to include educational resources, among families with children who have a special education plan, only half (51%) report they are enrolled in EFMP for their oldest child with a special education plan (Blue Star Families, 2024).

If you are working with military-connected families, you may wonder what resources are available to help them, especially with educational challenges. There are programs available to help students as they transition from one school system to the next. I had heard about several throughout my work as a military psychologist and even shared resources before with military-connected families, but it wasn’t until our most recent move where I actually engaged one of the resources, the School Liaison (SL), to help our family and our teenage son transition to a new state, school district, and school.

The School Liaison Program (SLP) is implemented by all branches of service and SLs serve as the primary Department of Defense (DoD) point of contact for school-related matters for military families. SLs are subject matter experts on kindergarten through 12th grade education regarding the transition of military dependents attending public, private and home schools. Not only do they represent, inform, and assist military families with school related matters to include special education support, but they also engage with military commanders and educators to build partnerships between the military, community, and schools. Given their close relationship with both the local command and with state and local education authorities, they tend to have a good pulse on what resources are available. They can assist with lots of educational related needs to include helping provide resources, connecting you to schools and school counselors, and helping connect you to the EFMP and your school’s special education department. Additionally, if you home-school, they are a great resource for state and local home-schooling requirements and resources.

SLs are assigned to each installation to support military families with their child(ren)’s educational needs. I met our base SL at a community outreach event while stationed overseas. When I shared some concerns about the upcoming move, she asked if I would like her to connect me to the SL assigned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER). I thought, why not. We were preparing to move from Germany to Alaska and our 13-year-old son was transitioning into 8th grade (his fifth school and school district). In addition to some of the typical educational stressors from moving, this move felt even more challenging as we were transitioning from a Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) school to a public school in Alaska. For those not familiar with DoDEA, it is responsible for planning, directing, coordinating, and managing prekindergarten through 12th grade educational programs on behalf of the DoD.

Our local SL connected me to the school counselors at the middle school my son would be attending so that I could ask questions ahead of moving and transfer him into the appropriate classes based on recommendations from his current teachers and school. She also helped me locate the National Junior Honor Society point of contact so that we could get his membership transferred smoothly prior to the move, especially since his new school did not allow membership until 8th grade, but his previous school allowed him to join as a 7th grader.

You can find a comprehensive list of SLs by going to the Military OneSource MilitaryINSTALLATIONS search tool. Several other resources to be familiar with are the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) and the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3). The MCEC educates, advocates, and collaborates to resolve educational challenges for military children that are associated with the military lifestyle. The MIC3, or Compact, deals with some of the identified challenges military children face with their frequent moves. For example, it ensures uniform treatment as military children transfer between school districts in member states. If you know or are working with a military family who is moving and they have school aged children, make sure to share these educational support resources with them.

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Lisa French, Psy.D., is the Chief of Operations at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

Blue Star Families. (2024). 2023 military family lifestyle survey comprehensive report.

Karre, J. K., & Perkins, D. F. (2022). Military-connected students’ educational success.
     Clearinghouse For Military Family Readiness. Penn State.