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$1 million project connects resources to military families with developmental disabilities

By Susan White

Military families struggling to find services for their children with developmental disabilities will soon have a new network of support.

UNC’s School of Social Work and Family Support Program are developing a project that aims to connect military families more directly to state and local resources, activities and services using a “one-stop” model. The federal Administration on Developmental Disabilities of the Administration on Children and Families is funding the $1 million project.

Known as “Strengthening Military Families with Children Who Have Developmental Disabilities,” the project is being piloted at Camp Lejeune and will target Marine Corps service members who live off base, said Irene Nathan Zipper, a School of Social Work clinical professor. Zipper and Gary Bowen, a Kenan Distinguished Professor, are co-investigators of the five-year project.

Although lower-ranking Marines are usually required to live off the installation, such arrangements can be challenging for families who have children with special needs, Zipper and Bowen agreed. Navigating the military and civilian systems can be intimidating and frustrating, Zipper added.

“These are usually the most vulnerable families,” Bowen said.

Through the Strengthening Military Families project, service agencies within the community and the military will work together to give families one primary place to turn to when they need help and assist them in quickly identifying available programs and resources, such as children’s camps and assistive technology.

The project, which expects to serve 20 families in the first year and 60 by the second, began in late September and is currently focusing on establishing the program and informing families of its availability. Peer support groups will also be established.

“Parent-to-Parent support will match families who share common concerns and common experiences,” Zipper said. “A family that has learned to navigate the system can be a real aid to someone who has a child with developmental disabilities and is new to the system.”

As part of the project, Bowen is also developing a graduate course that will teach social work students how to work with military service members and their families. He expects the course to be offered in spring 2011.