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Helping Military Families Cope with Change

Smith researchers anticipate that a recent primetime special of Sesame Street will yield valuable information about how children respond when an enlisted parent returns to the family after combat.

Featuring celebrities Queen Latifah and John Mayer, the half–hour special, "Coming Home: Military Families Cope with Change," tells the stories of service members who return home with injuries and explores the struggles their families face as a result.

The Smith College School for Social Work, which was founded in 1918 to address the needs of American veterans, partnered with Sesame Street Workshop to conduct a formal assessment of the responses of children and parents to the program, which aired on PBS in April, the "Month of the Military Child."

An estimated 350 participants, military and civilian families with children between the ages of 2 and 8, were included in the research. Following the show, they were asked to respond to written surveys and join focus group sessions facilitated by Smith faculty members. Each military family included at least one parent who served on a tour of duty in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

"Our goal is to help families think about how they pull together and cope with visible and nonvisible war wounds," says Marsha Kline Pruett, Maconda Brown O'Connor Chaired Professor, who is directing the project. "The School for Social Work, with its commitment to the treatment of veterans, seemed the perfect institution to partner on this initiative."

As part of the initiative, Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Street Workshop's vice president of outreach and education, will visit Smith on July 27 to talk to SSW students and faculty about the development of "Coming Home," as well as the Sesame Street Workshop's military families initiative "Talk, Listen, Connect," of which the program was a key element.

Alumnae who wish to organize a screening and focus group, and who have not yet seen the Sesame Street episode, should contact Pruett.

The School for Social Work currently offers a full scholarship to a member of the military who wants to treat veterans. Go to www.smith.edu/newssmith/military for more resources.

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