Impacts of a Resident Camp Experience on the Lives of Military-Connected Youth
Keywords:camp, positive youth development, military-connected youth
Children and adolescents in U.S. military families experience several challenges such as multiple relocations, being separated from a service member parent, the deployment of a service member parent to a war zone, changing peer groups, and fear of death/injury of a service member parent. These unique attributes of being a military-connected child can be somewhat attenuated with programs specifically designed for this population. Using Positive Youth Development (PYD) as the theoretical underpinning, the purpose of this study was to explore the impacts of a week-long resident camp specifically designed for youth of injured, ill, or fallen service members—a much understudied group.
An end-of-camp survey intended to determine if attending camp had an impact on three pre-conceived constructs (self-confidence, connections to others, positive coping skills) provided secondary data which were analyzed in this study. More than 3,000 youth ages 8 to 15 years old completed the questionnaire. Demographic information collected was limited to gender and age. Initially, an EFA was conducted to determine if the intended constructs were indeed measured. Following this, t-tests and ANOVAs were applied as appropriate to the data.
The EFA determined that four constructs were measured by the survey (selfconfidence, peer connections, coping skills, and perceived counselor support [adult/child relationships])—all dimensions of PYD. Some age and gender differences were also found. The study findings suggest that military-related camp programs be implemented that target boys with active programming and intentional down-time activities (e.g., informal conversations and interactions) to help them create and develop friendships. In addition, by continuing to provide opportunities that are both novel and challenging to campers, staff can help young people to develop a sense of competence and confidence in their ability to take on new activities. As younger campers struggle with positive coping skills, staff have an opportunity to engage the youngsters in conversations and corrective actions to help them develop and practice positive coping strategies. Lastly, the data show that returning to camp for multiple years makes a difference in some aspects of PYD for campers. This suggests that camps may wish to encourage campers to return for several consecutive years; this may conflict with camps that have waiting lists of potential campers and wish to limit the number of times a child may return in an effort to serve more children.
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