A Randomized Clinical Trial of a Postdeployment Parenting Intervention for Service Members and Their Families With Very Young Children

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Abstract

Objective: Parenting through the deployment cycle presents unique stressors for military families. To date, few evidence-based and military-specific parenting programs are available to support parenting through cycles of deployment separation and reintegration, especially for National Guard/Reserve members. The purpose of this research was to test the efficacy of a parenting program developed specifically to support military families during reintegration. Method: Within 1 year of returning from deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq, 115 service members with very young children were randomly assigned to receive either the Strong Families Strong Forces Parenting Program at baseline or after a 12-week waiting period. Using a home-based modality, service members, at-home parents, and their young child were assessed at baseline, 3 months posttreatment/wait period, and 6 months from baseline. Results: Service member parents in Strong Families evidenced greater reductions in parenting stress and mental health distress relative to those in the waitlist comparison group. Service members with more posttraumatic stress symptoms reported higher levels of perceived parental efficacy in the intervention group than service members in the comparison group. Intervention also resulted in enhanced parental reflective capacity, including increased curiosity and interest in the young child among those in the intervention group relative to comparison. Conclusion: Service member parents and their spouses demonstrated high interest in participating in a postdeployment parenting program targeting families with very young children. Findings point to the feasibility, appeal, and efficacy of Strong Families in this initial trial and suggest promise for implementation in broader military and community service systems.

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