By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — For the past few years, the University of Minnesota has been engaged in a research project aimed at teaching and studying parenting skills of military families post-deployment.
More than 250 families already have been enrolled the past three years, and data collection is under way.
Now the U of M is turning its focus outstate for the last leg of the study, hoping about 20-25 Mankato-area military families will take part.
“The idea from the public is once everybody’s home, it’s all better, and that’s the furthest thing from reality,” said Thad Shunkwiler of Mankato, outreach coordinator for the project and a faculty researcher in the U of M department of family social science. “What we know is that after deployment is when real stress (sets in).”
The $3.2 million project was funded through the National Institute of Drug Abuse and National Institutes of Health and was based on the long-term parenting study by Marion Forgatch and Gerald Patterson, which examined the impact of parenting on development.
With war being a part of the lives of many families nationwide the past decade, researchers determined a study should be done on needs of military families for effective parenting techniques after deployments, Shunkwiler said.
Studies show more than 10 percent of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will have post-traumatic stress disorder. And 20 percent return to no job, which adds stress to parenting, Shunkwiler said.
Forgatch and Patterson created a parenting management training model, an intervention system to help families develop parenting skills. The U of M team, led by Abigail Gewirtz in the family social science department, modified the program to fit the military experience, said Shunkwiler, a medical officer in the Minnesota Guard. The program is called After Deployment: Adaptive Parenting Tools, or ADAPT.
Focusing on Minnesota National Guard and Reserve families, Shunkwiler said the purpose of the research project is to test the effectiveness of ADAPT. Although too early in the process to say definitively, the goal could be to make the program available to the military as a tool to help deployed troops transition back into family life, as well as help their families normalize again.
Before the end of the five-year research project, 400 Minnesota families will have participated. Through interviews and monitoring, researchers will determine whether ADAPT techniques affect their children’s behavioral and emotional problems, among other things.
“Most of these programs are exclusive to the metro area, thus leaving out rural veterans who need the intervention as much or more than metro-area veterans,” said Shunkwiler, who also teaches part time at Minnesota State University.
The Mankato parenting groups will be starting at the end of February, and families interested need to come forward immediately to schedule an assessment, Shunkwiler said. Another group likely will be held in Mankato in the summer, however.
Families will be compensated up to $600 for their time and travel, as the study is a big commitment spanning 14 weeks. Two-hour weekly meetings will be held in Mankato with child care and meals provided.
Not all of the families who sign up will receive ADAPT training. As the control group, they will be offered traditional parenting resources and still will be monitored by researchers.
“We need to make sure that it’s the intervention that makes the change in families,” Shunkwiler said.
Families are again assessed at different intervals for years afterward.
“We can track the changes that are being made,” Shunkwiler said.
Families interested cannot have a mom or dad who is now deployed; the parent must have returned from a deployment within the last 10 years. Single parents are welcome.
The children must be between the ages of 5 and 12 years old, and its OK if the deployment occurred before the children were born.
“The intervention is not to help families through deployment; it’s to reintegrate after deployment,” Shunkwiler said.
Although it’s early, he believes the ADAPT program is working.
“We can prove through research that what we’re doing is helping families,” he said. “This is leading research. Nobody in the country is doing this kind of work.”
Those interested in participating can visit www.cehd.umn.edu/fsos/projects/adapt, call 612-624-4830 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.