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Roughly half of the two million United States service members who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 are parents, with almost two million children at home who have been affected by their deployments (U.S. Department of Defense, 2011). Although military families are resilient (Park, 2011), deployment is a unique stressor that affects all members of the family. Military spouses and children must cope with anxiety for the service member’s safety, changes in the home environment, and the return of a service member who may be suffering from combat-related physical or mental injuries (Jacobson et al., 2008; Milliken, Auchterlonie, & Hoge, 2007; Shea, Vujanovic, Mansfield, Sevin, & Liu, 2010).
An increasing body of literature highlights the psychological toll that deployment takes on children and their families, including higher rates of mental health problems, greater risk of child maltreatment, and parenting stress (Gibbs, Martin, Kupper, & Johnson, 2007; Lester et al., 2010).
Because parenting difficulties resulting from increased stress and mental illness among military parents are frequently associated with a myriad of poor child outcomes (Flake, Davis, Johnson, & Middleton, 2009; Rentz et al., 2006), preventive interventions that promote effective, positive parenting practices among military families may proffer an intervention strategy that provides a protective buffer for children (Gewirtz, Erbes, Polusny, Forgatch, & DeGarmo, 2011).
Indeed, multiple studies have highlighted the significant role that effective parenting has played in healthy child adjustment among families experiencing adversity (e.g., Patterson, 1982; Masten, 2001). Despite these findings, there remains a lack of empirically validated programs designed to strengthen parenting among military families.
To address this gap, a parenting intervention for military parents with school-aged children, known as After Deployment Adaptive Parenting Tools (ADAPT), was developed. ADAPT is a modification of Parent Management Training-Oregon Model (PMTO) a well-validated and widely implemented parent training program (e.g., Forgatch, Patterson, & Gewirtz, 2013). Consistent with PMTO’s key components, ADAPT targets five positive parenting practices, including: (i) skill encouragement; (ii) positive involvement; (iii) family problem-solving; (iv) monitoring; and (v) effective discipline (Forgatch & Patterson, 2010). Parenting practices are taught in weekly 2-hour groups through role-play, practice, and discussion. Both focus group and empirical military family data informed adaptations to the traditional PMTO curriculum, including addressing co-parenting needs specific to reintegration, and emotion dysregulation associated with combat stress. In addition, an online supplemental program was developed to provide resources for those who were unable to participate in groups (i.e., to address barriers to participation; for more information see Gewirtz, Pinna, Hanson, & Brockberg, 2014).
The ADAPT parenting program is currently being tested in two randomized controlled effectiveness trials (RCTs) funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (R01-DA030114) and the U.S. Department of Defense (W81XWH-14-1-0143). Together, these trials will examine the effectiveness of the program, using several formats (e.g., online, group, telehealth), for more than 700 families in Minnesota and Michigan. In both trials, families participate in four assessments over a 2-year period to investigate the effectiveness of the intervention on parenting practices and child and parent outcomes.
Early data from the first RCT, which examines the effectiveness of group-based ADAPT, observed a significant improvement in parenting self-efficacy, mothers’ observed parenting practices, PTSD symptoms, and child adjustment at 1-year post baseline. Furthermore, we found that the program particularly benefited high-risk fathers (i.e. those showing poorer parenting or higher baseline PTSD symptoms or both). These benefits appeared to derive from the program’s influence on parents’ emotion regulation, which allowed parents to be more present and able to effectively teach their children key life skills.
Our findings have demonstrated the relevance of empirically based parenting interventions to promote wellbeing among military parents and their children, who have served and sacrificed for our country.

About the Authors

Ashley A. Chesmore, is a PhD student in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Her research focuses on ways to improve mental health outcomes among children through improved parenting and positive relationships with adult mentors and teachers.
Abigail H. Gewirtz, is Lindahl Leadership Professor in the Department of Family Social Science and Institute of Child Development, and Director of the Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health at the University of Minnesota. She is the PI of the ADAPT Study and a licensed clinical child psychologist. Her research examines the impact of traumatic events on children and families, the protective functions of parenting practices, and the adaptation and widespread implementation of effective prevention programs.


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