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Administering Healthy Programs: Helping Staff Meet Children's Mental Health Needs

It is important that you and staff members take a holistic approach to health. Mental health is an important component of overall well-being. This lesson will help you teach, model, and observe practices that support the mental health of children and families during times of stress, such as deployment.

  • Describe the various effects of deployment on children and families.
  • Describe strategies you can use to support staff before, during, and after families experience deployment.
  • Provide support and resources to families related to mental health and well-being.



Children experience a range of emotions, and those emotions are amplified when their families experience stressors that are caused by a major change like deployment, death, divorce, separation, relocation, or job loss. You and your staff will likely work with children whose families experience these types of stressful events. Each family handles stress differently, and each child will have unique needs. You can help your staff feel confident and competent to support the mental health of children and youth. You might also need to help your staff identify times when the additional support of mental health professionals is appropriate for children, families, and staff. First, you can introduce staff members to the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework. This framework is designed to prevent child abuse and neglect, but it is also an excellent way to approach your work with all families. Your program supports children’s mental health by strengthening families. This framework focuses on strengths and promotes overall well-being. While it is beyond the scope of this lesson to completely explain the Protective Factors framework, you can learn more by visiting For now, you can teach staff about the five protective factors that your program should work to support in all families:

Strengthening Families Protective Factors  
by the Center for the Study of Social Policy  
(Figure 1)

  1. Parental Resilience

    Families are able to manage stress and bounce back from challenges.

  2. Knowledge of Child Development and Parenting

    Adults know what to expect as children grow and are able to meet their child's needs at each stage of development.

  3. Social Connections

    Families know there are people who care about them and who they can call on for help.

  4. Concrete Supports in Times of Need

    Families can get the help they need when crises strike: food and shelter, medical and mental health services, social, legal, and educational resources.

  5. Social and Emotional Competence of Children

    Social and emotional development promotes healthy relationships with others. Children with strong relationships, who can regulate their own behavior, express their emotions, and relate to others are at lower risk of maltreatment.

You can learn more about the Protective Factors Framework by visiting

For the purposes of this lesson, we will focus on resilience. Resilience is the ability to manage stress and bounce back from challenges. It is important for adults and children alike. Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg has written extensively about how to develop and model resiliency to support military youth. Watch this video about his discussion of the “7 C’s” that help children positively cope with the challenges of military life: You can also read more about the “7 C’s” for building resiliency in the Learn resource below, from the International Youth Foundation’s, The 7 Cs: The Essential Building Blocks of Resilience:

Keep in mind that all families face a variety of stressors and challenges. For military families, the common stress of deployment continues to impact families long after the deployment has ended and the service member has returned home. Ensure staff members understand that deployment is a multi-stage process. Help them understand the different emotions families go through before, during, and after deployment.

Seven-Stage Cycle

  1. Stage 1 — Anticipation of Departure
  2. Stage 2 — Detachment and Withdrawal
  3. Stage 3 — Emotional Disorganization
  4. Stage 4 — Recovery and Stabilization
  5. Stage 5 — Anticipation of Return
  6. Stage 6 — Return Adjustment and Renegotiation
  7. Stage 7 — Reintegration and Stabilization

Emotional Cycles of Deployment. Adapted from Morse (n.d.) and Pincus, House, Christenson, & Adler (2001).

Connect staff members to the resources they need to do their jobs such as Military One Source at or other resources available for your particular Service program. With the assistance of your program’s trainer or coach, support staff members as they implement their ideas to support families before, during, and after deployment. Communicate with staff members and families so they understand that it is OK to ask for help. Provide staff members and families with community resources that include mental health support.

Supervise & Support

As a Program Manager, you should stay connected to the mental health needs of the children and families in your program. Make sure you know which families are experiencing deployments, divorce, relocation, grief, job loss, or any other major stressors. Create opportunities for these families to connect with one another informally or through support networks on your installation or near your program. Also keep in mind that many of your staff members may experience similar life events. Listen to their concerns and help them find proactive ways to handle their stress.

Model a compassionate, problem-solving approach. Let staff members know that you are there to listen when they need to talk. Make yourself available to families when they reach out with concerns or need support. Although they will probably build the strongest relationships with the staff members who work directly with their children, you can also be a strong supportive resource for families. Advocate for initiatives that will help your program support children, families, and staff through difficult times. The following video demonstrates how one program helps bridge the distance between deployed service members and their children.

Connecting During Deployment

This video gives an example of how one program connects children and families

Caring for children and families experiencing extreme stress can be challenging for even the most seasoned staff member. Watch for signs that a staff member is overwhelmed or experiencing stress themselves. Be prepared to step in and offer support. Read these scenarios on the left and think about how you would respond.

ScenarioYou might say…
LaShorage’s husband is on his first deployment. She cries every time she thinks about it. She is just not ready to talk to the kids in her class about her emotions and their deployment experiences. Her feelings are too raw.“LaShorage, I know you’re hurting right now. I’m here to talk any time you need me. Let’s take it slow. It might help to remember the kids in your class have these same feelings. You can help each other learn to talk about it.”
A new parent in your program, Cedric was raised to believe that “boys don’t cry.” He was also taught that it was a sign of weakness to talk about how he was feeling. He tries to understand the lesson his child is learning in your program about emotions, but he really thinks it’s best not to talk about things that are difficult or emotional. He shares with you that he thinks everyone would feel better if they just kept busy.“Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me, Cedric. I can see that you have done a lot of thinking about this. Because everybody processes things differently, we try to help children understand that all their feelings are OK. Being able to name our emotions is a first step in being able to cope with them. And sometimes it helps to talk things through. When a beloved pet dies, it helps to name emotions like sadness to begin to heal raw feelings. What do you think? I really value your input on this subject.”
Stacey has been a military wife and mother for 20 years. She has been through it all. She can comfort kids, co-workers, moms, and dads. In fact, she has a reputation for being a great person to talk to. People seek her out even after their child leaves your program. She always has a hug for everyone and makes each person feel like they are the only person in the room.“Stacey, can you share some of your experiences and approaches with the other teachers? I think we can all learn from you and the way you connect.”

You should also look for signs that staff members are experiencing stress. Watch this video to learn about the signs of stress in caregivers:

Taking Care of Yourself

Learn the signs of stress so you can support all staff members

If you see any of these signs of stress, recognize that a staff member might need extra support from you. Find time to talk. Help staff members create a personalized self-care plan that will help them rest and relax. Self-care is personal and each person needs to identify strategies that will work for themselves. Make sure the staff member takes breaks as needed and has the support they need outside of work.


It is important that you are familiar with resources related to children’s mental health—particularly those related to deployment. Use the Mental Health Resource Sheet activity as you explore the websites below, take notes on the resources you find, and think about ways you can share these resources with your staff.

You can also consider how these resources could be used to support children in families experiencing other kinds of separation such as long-term illness, incarceration, or frequent travel.


The death of a parent is perhaps the most emotionally challenging event that can happen to a child. Use these resources below to help you support the mental health of children and youth as they process their grief. Take note of the resources you may wish to share with staff members and families as needed. In addition, use the two-page Supporting Children Who Are Experiencing Stress from Child Care Aware to better support staff who work with children experiencing anxiety.

Finally, see the Resources for Military Children Affected by Deployment resource compiled by the U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Command, Child and Youth Services. This provides a list of books and website resources that may help children prepare for and handle the deployment of their parent or close family member. You could add some of these books to your program library, and you could include some of these resources in program newsletters to assure families know of and are reminded about these resources. Another useful resource from Child Welfare Information Gateway includes some resources you may want to share with parents:


The relocation of forces or materials to desired operational areas. Military family members may be relocated to war zones or other areas as needed


True or false? It is normal for a family member to detach and withdraw emotionally before a spouse deploys.
Tim is a staff member in your school-age program. His wife is about to go on her first deployment overseas. He does not appear to be handling the stress well. What can you do?
Your community is celebrating the return of a large group of service members from a lengthy deployment. Which of the following is NOT something your program can do to support the children and families?
References & Resources

Center for the Study of Social Policy. (2013). Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework.

Ginburg, K., & Jarlow, M. M. (2014). Building resilience in children and teens: Giving kids roots and wings (3rd ed.). American Academy of Pediatrics.

Harper Browne, C. (2014). The Strengthening Families Approach and Protective Factors Framework: Branching out and reaching deeper. Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Social Policy.

Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center. (n.d.) Mental Health.

Huebner, C.R. (2019). Health and Mental Health Needs of Children in US Military Families. AAP Section on Uniformed Services, AAP Committee on Psychosocial Aspects Of Child And Family Health. Pediatrics. 143(1).

Morse, M. D. (n.d.). A Closer Look for Current Conditions: A Fresh Glance at the Emotional Cycles of Deployment.

Pincus, S. H., House, R., Christenson, J., & Adler, L. E. (2004). The Emotional Cycles of Deployment: A Military Family Perspective.

Sesame Workshop. (n.d.).

The Center of Excellence for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation. (n.d.).

Zero to Three. (n.d.). Coming Together Around Military Families.

Zero to Three. (2019) Think Babies Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Resource List.