Social Work Helps Military Families

While she's only recently joined the faculty at UNCW's College of Health and Human Services, Assistant Professor Jessica Strong is already helping improve the experience of local military families. Strong, whose previous areas of study include domestic violence and sexual assault, is channeling efforts toward a better understanding of parenting and family life within the military.

"We're trying to help active-duty families reintegrate after a combat deployment," says Strong, explaining her ongoing research. "One of the reasons I'm interested in this is because my husband is active duty," she shares. "He had been deployed four times."

The recipient of several grants, including the Charles L. Cahill grant to fund pilot studies, and the Discern Aude grant, Strong's research efforts on behalf of active-duty families continues to gain momentum. Her questions are both fundamental and often overlooked: What is a family's experience when one of its members is deployed to a war zone?; What challenges do such families encounter, and how have they learned to overcome them?; How does a family reintegrate successfully when a member returns from deployment?; And what can social scientists do to help? JessicaStrongPhoto

In seeking out answers, Strong turned to Dr. Ellen DeVoe, a Boston University scholar who heads a program called Strong Family Strong Forces. Devoted to working with families of reserve forces, especially those with young children, Strong Family Strong Forces provided a more in-depth look at related issues.

And while that research focuses on reserve-component troops-"slightly different from active duty," says Strong-she realized that a similar program could be helpful for active-duty service members and their families in Jacksonville, near UNCW's Onslow Extension Site. Strong applied for support to the Office of Cultural Arts at UNCW, and was awarded a grant; next, she applied to the Office of Research, who awarded her the Charles L. Cahill Award to fund pilot studies. "Right now we're in the middle of data collection," she reports. "We've interviewed 19 families, and we're starting to do key program provider interviews with counselors and military staff, who work on bases and with families during deployment."

In working with her subjects, Strong has been impressed by examples of resourceful parenting. "They have so much creativity," Strong remarks, on the families she is following. "The spouses at home have a lot of different techniques they've come up with to help manage parenting during deployment. Strong focuses on listening and facilitating rather than "lecturing" to the target group. "We focus on the things that people are doing right, and try to do more of them. So it's not just taking this intervention and implementing it. It's also merging that with what people are doing well, with the solutions they've come up with."

All this, having only become full-time faculty in 2012; since then, in addition to the Charles L. Cahill Award, Strong also earned the Discere Aude Award for outstanding mentorship to UNCW students, in 2013. "It was a whirlwind fall semester," she recalls.

Her students and colleagues hope the whirlwind continues.